Wheelchair Experience Provides New Perspective
It's hard to believe that viewing the world from half a metre closer to the ground can make such a difference, but after a few hours navigating Brisbane's CBD from the seat of a wheelchair, it has opened my eyes to the challenges and opportunities faced by Queenslanders who use a wheelchair.
Last Friday I joined members of Brisbane's business community, a journalist, a breakfast radio DJ and a Queensland Reds player in the Spinal Injuries Association's "Take My Seat" challenge. For a few hours I was chaperoned around the CBD, experiencing life from a new, unfamiliar and often confronting perspective.
The tasks that challenged me most were the ones that I ordinarily consider straight forward and barely give a second thought. Trying to pull a door open towards me and then maneuvre through the door made me feel completely helpless. I learned the hard way not to reach for the mobile phone in my shirt pocket whilst moving - removing one hand from the wheel led me in a direction I hadn't planned on going. Reaching across the counter at a newsagency to purchase a chocolate bar was a major effort.
The other particularly confronting aspect of the experience was the wide range of responses from people when confronted with two people in wheelchairs. Some people were very helpful and considerate. Others treated us like we had a contagious disease and avoided us. However, when I consider my own reactions at times in the past, I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt and say that in general we need to develop a better understanding of mobility disabilities.
The most encouraging aspect of the experience was the number of CBD buildings, streets and amenities that have been designed or modified to provide a positive experience for wheelchair users.
Accessing the Brisbane Square Council Library was a positive experience. Many ATMs are now positioned in a way that provide access from a wheelchair. Some shops with steps at their front door have ramps available.
However, the further away you go from the CBD, the more accessibility issues you'll find. When I look around Pine Rivers, as I have done from a new perspective in the past few days, there are challenges and issues that we need to address.
The benefit for an MP in taking part in experiences such as "Take My Seat", and the reason I have committed to regularly spending "a day in the life of" various sections of our community, is that it has given me a new understanding of some of the issues that need to be addressed in Pine Rivers.
In recent weeks I've had a couple of issues raised with me concerning local accessibility issues. Having now undertaken the "Take My Seat" challenge, I would certainly welcome local residents contacting me about local accessibility issues that need to be addressed.
As a community we have a responsibility to consider the accessibility needs of everyone in our community. I know the "Take My Seat" experience will help me to be able to better represent those members of the Pine Rivers community who don't have the luxury of only spending half a day in a wheelchair, but for whom a wheelchair provides mobility every single day.