Chronic Illness, Disability

Brisbane’s Accessibility Failures

I attended the Queen concert at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on the 13th of February and I would like to share an experience that I had, and an experience I observed, that infuriated me.

The night of the concert it was raining, and there were quite a few people with disabilities attending, including myself. There were a lot of wheelchairs, and the concert venue was packed with 40,000 people.

When it came time to leave, we were all pretty wet and cold, and the rain was still drizzling.

There were long lines for taxis, which were picking people up in Castlemaine St because that was where the taxi rank was. I had preloaded the Black and White taxi app on my phone.

I booked a taxi, and the driver rang me – he said he was near but he was having trouble getting to Castlemaine St because of the traffic. I said that I had a disability and couldn’t walk very far.

Next thing I know, the cab is cancelled.

I tried three more times to get a cab with the app – they all canceled and finally the app told me that they were experiencing high congestion and it would not let me book anymore.

Eventually, we had to ring my mother, who was just getting over the flu, to come and get us. We waited in front of the stadium – as were other people who had disabilities. Suncorp Stadium allowed cabs and private cars to drive into this area to collect people. There were excellent traffic control people directing in this area.

One group had ordered a cab 55 minutes earlier and were still waiting when my mother picked us up.

A Yellow cab drove into this waiting area where there was a group of people with a person in a wheelchair. This was a cab equipped to take wheelchairs; it stopped momentarily, looked at them, and drove off again. One of the traffic control people tried to run after it and couldn’t get them to pay attention.

They were still waiting for a cab when we left (we were unable to fit them and the wheelchair in our small car, otherwise we would have taken them with us).

Let’s be clear here: Brisbane is a capital city. Suncorp Stadium is a main event venue. Clearly accessibility for the disabled has not been thought through here.

But this is a common story of Brisbane, in particular, the northern suburbs.

Where I live, the bus stop used to be at the end of our street. The stop has since been removed. Truth be told, I had stopped using the bus stop – the bus would either be half an hour early or would not come at all. On Sundays, the bus went through once every hour – and again, it would either be early or not come at all.

My local train station (which I would still have to be driven to anyway), is at Albion. To access the other side of the station, it is required to go up a steep ramp (difficult enough for me as a non wheelchair user, I can only imagine how difficult it is for manual wheelchair users) and down the other side.

Yet on the south side, things are different. There is a southern busway, in which I can go from the city to Mt Gravatt in under half an hour with regular buses. There are lifts to get you to the platforms you need.

And now, the Brisbane city council is installing a metro. That mainly services…you guessed it, the Southside. They have also been putting in lots of bikeways, including some near where I live.

As of 2018, a little under 1 in 5 Queenslanders was reported as having a disability. I can pretty much guarantee most of them won’t be using bikes.

So let’s move to the idea of taking a car – whether you drive or you have someone who can chauffeur you everywhere you want to go.

Let’s say you want to go to the Queen St Mall and are going to be dropped off (because who can afford the parking in the city?) There is only one place that it is legal to pick up or drop off and that is on George Street, in front of the Suncorp/Brisbane Square Library building. This area is divided into two – the front area is for passenger vehicles picking up and dropping off, the back area is a loading zone for tradesmen.

On any given day you will find: people who have parked and left their cars there; tradesmen who are parked in the passenger zone; Uber, Didi and Lyft vehicles that are parked in the passenger zone waiting to pick up and drop off.

Doesn’t leave a lot of room for cars picking up disabled people, with or without wheelchairs does it?

So, you decide to go to a suburban shopping centre
. You’ll have just as much problem finding disabled car parks there – in fact, at Westfield Chermside, there is an area where the parents with prams car parks are actually closer to the centre than the disabled parks, I say ones, indicating multiple, but there really are’nt many at all. Just as, on Wickham Terrace, where all the specialists and doctors practice, there is one (count it, ONE), disabled park outside the building I go to. One. How does someone decide that one disabled parking space is good enough for an area that is, logically, going to have many disabled people visiting?

As Brisbane continues to brand itself as a “world city”, I think we really need to ask – can we be a “world city” if we’re not accessible to everyone in that world?

Chronic Illness, Disability, Mental Health, Mental Illness

Disability

Let’s talk about disability.

It’s not a very pretty word, but it’s one of the only ones we’ve got to describe it.

The Oxford Dictionary defines disability as:

  1. A physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.
  2. A disadvantage or handicap, especially one imposed or recognized by the law.

(Online Oxford Dictionary: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/disability)

Am I disabled? Yes. I have a laundry list of disabilities, but most of mine are considered “invisible” disabilities. What’s an invisible disability, you ask?

Invisible Disability, or hidden disability, is an umbrella term that captures a whole spectrum of hidden disabilities or challenges that are primarily neurological in nature.

(Disabled World https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/types/invisible/)

So, my “invisible” disabilities are fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression and hypermobility syndrome . Fun combination, huh?

Disability is often included as an afterthought. Because legally it “has” to be included. Take, as an example, building a high-rise or, in the case of Queensland’s utter ridiculousness, a fleet of trains.

Queensland decided to buy a fleet of trains. However it was only after they received them, that anyone realised that perhaps it would be a good idea to comply with the Disability Act and retroactively make them disability compliant. It will cost them 150 million dollars. (Easton, S., 5th March 2018)

Surely it would have been cheaper to think of this beforehand? But this is how disability works. No one wants to talk about it, no one wants to see it. In fact, sometimes I think everyone would like all disabilities to be invisible. It’s the way people don’t know where to look when they see a person in a wheelchair (hint: at their eyes). The way people reach out to pet service dogs (seriously, who just pets a dog before they’ve been introduced? I don’t pet your kids!). And of course, it’s the way people find mental illness something they just don’t want to talk about.

Hey, over here! I’m talking about it!

There are some important facts to remember about disability that you should always remember:

  1. People with a disability are human. Please treat them the same way you would like to be treated.
  2. People with a mental illness are not crazy. We are not all violent. Mental illness is not an excuse for murder, mass shootings, or being an incompetent President.
  3. Please don’t pet service dogs. In fact, don’t pet any dog without asking its owner. The dog could be frightened of people, or be at work. As I said earlier – I do not pet your children – do not pet my dog. (And yes, I understand the difficulties of this because ALL THE PUPPIES, but just be courteous about it).
  4. If you don’t understand a disability, LEARN. Google is your friend. And you might find that by understanding it, you are less freaked out by it (but I don’t know why you would be – you can’t CATCH a disability. It’s not the flu).

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.