Sometimes it takes a superstar for people to take note. When the superstar is Stevie Wonder, blind and commenting on disability access, people listen. Even more so when the said persona chose to make a statement on disability access at the 2016 Grammy Awards. Wonder started off with a joke about his seeing colleagues not being able to read the card that had the name of the winner of song of the year on it because it was written in Braille. It was a nice moment but probably didn’t deserve the overreaction of the woman to his right who giggled like a school girl and looked like she was about to wet herself. She was probably betraying her discomfort with disability, and in particular, disability jokes. That said, Wonder’s message was clear and powerful, “We need to make every single thing accessible to every single person with a disability.”
In Australia the powers that be probably thought Wonder’s message was lovely and that will be the sum of their reaction. You see, disability access in Australia is appalling and seemingly getting worse. In the last two weeks there have been several disability access incidents that have left me scratching my head. How can these things happen in a rich country like Australia? It is shameful.
It started with a mobility scooter using guy who has Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Apparently on three separate occasions the guy wanted to get on a tram in Melbourne and asked for the ramp to be deployed. He was refused. It seems that some well meaning passengers then got off the tram to lift him and his scooter on.
Yarra Trams were apologetic. You see the ramps are only for emergency situations and the MS guy has to board at a stop that has accessibility features. But these are very rare in Melbourne even though they are slowly being built. In the meantime the MS guy has to either find an accessible stop or again rely on kind hearted fellow passengers to lift him on the tram. All he wants to do is get to hospital for his treatment. It is shameful that this is still happening here in Australia. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-10/yarra-trams-driver-refused-to-deploy-ramp-man-with-ms-says/7157030
For the last few weeks I have been assisting a deaf friend to try and get access to workshops and assessments to allow him to progress as a referee. I won’t say what sport because that would reveal the organisation in question. To cut a long story short my friend wants to progress as a referee. To do that he has to attend workshops, training and sit through a number of assessments. He is a very good and very passionate referee.
The problem is that my friend has no access to the workshops and assessments. Why? Because the association in question claims that they have no money to pay for interpreters. It is probably one of the biggest sporting associations in Australia. Yet they are crying poor. They seem to think that interpreting is some sort of charity and have this idea that spending a few hundred dollars to provide access is going to send them broke. It’s nonsense of course but that’s Australia for you.
And then there is Fucking Telstra, beautifully articulated by deaf Melissa Coe at the Blog, I Sign I Wander. Ms Coe has had an ongoing saga with Telstra to get them to stop phoning her. She and her fiance built a new house. For a myriad of reasons her new house had no phone lines or internet. For six months or so now she has been trying to get Telstra to organise a temporary solution so that she can access data. Us deafies largely access telecommunications through the internet now. The NRS, email, Facebook, chat features, Skype … it gives us access to many things.
Ms Coe has asked, and continues to ask, that Telstra communicate with her through text or email while they are trying to find a solution. It is a moot point that Telstra should have resolved this issue by now. The issue is that after three million or so reminders they still continue, virtually every day, to call deaf Melissa’s phone via voice. Despite repeated requests to not call they do.
Telstra, a communications giant, don’t email,they don’t text and they don’t use one of the many simple solutions available at their disposal to communicate with a person who is deaf. Instead they demonstrate Audism at its worst and expect Melissa and her fiance to adjust to their limited systems and capacity to problem solve.
After a sustained and clever social media campaign to embarrass Telstra the CEO is now involved. Will he make it better? Time will tell. The whole sorry saga is another example of lack of access in Australia for people with a disability. It is just appalling.
I wish I could end it here, but no there is more. It seems that mega rich Disney, known for their wonderful access provision in the United States, don’t follow what they practice there here in Australia. If you don’t believe me click HERE to see what Disney in the US provide people who are deaf.
But here in Australia Disney on Ice will not provide an Auslan interpreter for their performances. This means kids who are Auslan users, people who are Auslan users and parents who are Auslan users cannot go and enjoy the show. I guess if they are not providing interpreters they probably would poo themselves if someone should call and ask for captioning too.
Yet all of this is provided in the US. Why not here? All I can say is – That’s Australia for you. Suffice to say there is currently a sustained media campaign to get Disney on Ice to provide access. Look out for the story in the newspapers of Melbourne in the next day or so.
But that’s not all. There is the student that cannot be “assessed appropriately” because the lecturer has issues working with Auslan interpreters. There is the ongoing cinema access saga too. Reading Cinemas recently asked for my email contact so that they can “discuss options” with me. I dutifully provided it to them. Four weeks later they still have not even bothered to contact me.
And that sums up disability access in Australia. It is simply appalling and the apathy shown by so many people towards the provision of access is disheartening. There is a push to reinstate the Disability Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission. Will it help? I don’t think it will help one bit. What Australia needs is a disability discrimination legislation with teeth. Invest money in completely revamping the DDA. Make it compel people to comply.
Until we get that law with teeth Australia will continue to treat people with a disability with contempt. Advance Australia Fair???? No way, it should be Access Australia (not).
Sung to the tune of Advanced Australia Fair!
Australians all let us rejoice,
For DIS A BIL IT EEEE
We’ve crap access despite our toil,
Our homes a tragerdeeee;
Our land abounds in barriers
Oh hell theyre everywhere
In history’s page, let us say
Access Australia – NOT!
In painful strains then let us sing,
“Access Australia – NOT!”
Beneath our unfair Southern Cross
We’ll toil with hearts and hands
Thooough this Commonwealth of ours
Will rip us off again
For those with no dis ‘bilities
You’ve boundless stuff to share
Level the playing field to
Access Australia yeah!
Make us equal, let us sing
Access Australia yeah!