The A Team

Image is of disabled people disrupting a tram as part of the transport campaign. There is blonde lady at the front, dressed in black with a medium sized brown dog and small white dog.

I had so much fun today. I attended a campaign for accessible transport. It was attended by heaps of people with different disabilities. There was an Auslan interpreter present. We held up the trams at Clifton Hill for fifteen minutes. One of the trams was a beautiful accessible tram that a person in a wheelchair couldn’t get on anyway. Why? Because the tram stop wasn’t built up for it.

Do you know that Deaf and hard of hearing people are spoilt in Australia. It is almost like they cough, and they get what they want. Deaf Auslan users, according to Signbank, number just around 7000 in Australia. Despite this, Auslan interpreters are everywhere. We even have Auslan news on the ABC every Sunday. Government announcements have trusty Auslan interpreters alongside the politicians. Auslan translations of important information can be found on social media. I know of one university that spent $250 000 in a year just providing Auslan interpreters to ONE student.

Yup, Deaf Auslan users get great access. It’s not perfect, mind you. However, when you look at the numbers that the interpreting is for, you begin to realise that they are very well serviced indeed. Woah and betide should a Government make an announcement and no Auslan interpreter is present. Shit hits the fan. As it should.

Hard of hearing get it pretty good too. At least for television. Not too many years ago we might have been lucky to have three or four shows captioned per week. Now virtually every show is captioned. However, compared to Deaf Auslan users hard of hearing have a long way to go. Cinemas still rely on the dreadful Craptiview. Few movies are open captioned. Theatre is not captioned very much either. Strange really, considering that people who are hard of hearing number the millions.

Recently a Deaf friend of mine bemoaned the fact that all of the attention was on Wheelies. They get everything the Deaf friend said. Deaf people are ignored. The Blind get a pension they said. Why cant Deaf people get a pension too? My friend was the eternal victim. I am here to tell you that if any group of disabled people get good access, it is people who are Deaf and hard of hearing, By the proverbial mile.

People with physical disabilities have it very hard indeed. Many buildings in the CBD still have steps and are not accessible. Public transport to the CBD is largely inaccessible, particularly trams. In Victoria, a lot of money has been spent making train stations accessible with lifts and the like. But getting to the Train stations is a nightmare. You cant park, because accessible parking is at a minimum. Footpaths are in disrepair making it difficult for people in wheelchairs to get around. Space for wheelchairs on trains is minimal too. It is not surprising that many people in wheelchairs, or who have mobility issues, avoid public transport like the plague.

And those trams. They are a nightmare. They have modern state of the art trams that are fully accessible. Yet these trams service tram stops that have not been built up properly so that wheelchairs can get on them. On Burwood Highway they have beautiful tram stops that have been built up so that wheelchairs can access the trams that service them. But some scheduling numpty has serviced these stops with very old trams that all have steps. I am due for a hip replacement and I can tell you these old trams are not easy to get on.

Victoria has an accessible transport plan the plan states that by 2022 all infrastructure will be accessible. By 2032 all trams, trains and buses will also be accessible. So that is this year that all transport infrastructure is supposed to be accessible. No chance! Hence, the protest today. It was Auslan interpreted too, sadly I was the only person there that needed the interpreter.

Lobbying is a skilled business. It works better if disabled people find common ground and work together. Accessible transport, for example, is not just about getting on a tram, bus or train. It’s about having access to information. Knowing when trains are cancelled. It’s about information in plain English and staff at stations being trained to be able to assist people with a disability. It is a huge area of access. Disability groups need to find common ground and lobby together. In the lobbying game, numbers win. We all need to be the A Team … The Accessibility Team.

It’s not just transport, its services in general. Communication is a huge issue. It is not just interpreters and captioning. When you rock up at emergency at the hospital you need fluid and clear communication. If you are a person with an intellectual disability you need support to communicate with the doctor. You need information in accessible formats, visual and plain English for example. If you have autism and have some specific social and sensory needs, staff need to be aware of the diversity of needs among autistic people and how they might be able to assist. Deaf need interpreters, hard of hearing need access to captioning and fast. Hospitals need to set up and implement technology that will provide fast and accurate captioning. Health is the next great bastion for disability access.

Communication access is huge in so many areas. Yet, 30 years into my career we still have a fragmented advocacy industry that works largely on their own issues. Instead of finding common ground and working together, they lobby alone and on their own issues. It is so inefficient and such a waste of resources and knowledge. Hell, even Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum go it alone most of the time. It’s crazy.

To me it is so important that the advocacy industry becomes less insular. They need to support each other and find common ground. They need to lobby together and be there for each other. The last time the advocacy industry really got together and lobbied together in this way was probably for the NDIS. We need to revisit that campaign and find out why it was so successful. I’m pretty sure it was because diverse groups found common ground and all worked together!

It is time to work together. We all need to become the A Team!


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