Build the access bridge so people can get over it
This week’s Angry Cripple column is by Tom Bridge, who graduated from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) with a Bachelor of Arts, completing a double major in Ethics and Human Rights and Political Studies. He was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus and blogs at Aussie Pollies...
Most people run a mile from the idea of the government regulating too many aspects of their lives. But in light of the way people with a disability have been dealt with - or not dealt with - particularly since de-institutionalisation, a strong argument exists for much more government interference. It would be beneficial if the three different levels of government ran interference and legislated for much stronger, even mandatory accessibility provisions.
Governments of both political persuasions at the local state and federal level have baulked at any major action on accessibility for some years now and that is not good considering the growing number of people with a disability, including the ageing population who will also face accessibility issues.
Poor policy decision-making in accessibility issues has affected what current governments can enact as law, but it is far from completely stifling.
There need to be strict equal access provisions in three main areas - commercial and other public building access, transport and housing design.
The government has to act on accessibility issues that private business and governments in the past have not provided. There are some basic requirements for all people to be able to enjoy society equally.
Probably the biggest failure of government in relation to accessibility in the last five years has been the failure to make “universal design” principles mandatory nationwide.
Universal design principles are those that call for housing design to be made readily adaptable to the needs of people with a disability. This seems like pure common sense, but we all know the old adage that “common sense ain’t that common”.
The National Dialogue on Universal Housing Design in 2009 failed to achieve this mandatory standard and instead left us simply with an “aspirational” target of all housing being of universal design specifications by 2020.
This opportunity lost is made even worse, particularly given the need for these principles in housing design to cater not just for people with a disability, but for the rapidly ageing population.
The blame for this should not solely be taken by any level of government, even though I think they should have stepped up and enforced this from the outset and preferably long ago. The industry bodies have also failed to note the importance and immediacy of the issue.
Another central tenet in giving people with physical impairments the opportunity to participate fully in all functions of society is to provide equal access to commercial and other buildings. This is a failure of state and local government divisions over many decades in providing adequate legislation mandating items such as lifts for all multi-storey buildings, ramps and other disability friendly furnishings and design.
All commercial buildings should be made fully accessible to allow people with any level of physical capacity to fully conduct their necessary business. Changes should also be made which allow people of all levels of physical ability to enjoy leisure activities equally.
Strong building accessibility provisions should also, as a matter of priority, apply to all public premises, especially educational institutions and other government services - the latter has less work to do, but the former has more ground to gain. Indeed, no society can consider its people to be equal if they have not been provided equal access to an education which is suitable to their individual circumstances.
Finally, but certainly not of any less importance than the other two factors, is equal access to suitable transport so that people can enjoy both employment and leisure opportunities. An all too brief caveat though - this seems to be an improving area of local and state government practice, with older inaccessible buses increasingly being phased out and replaced in growing numbers by more accessible vehicles.
However, this area does have the potential for much greater improvement by providing fully accessible transport to people of differing physical ability in a much more efficient manner than both state and local government in parts of Australia are doing at present.
In no civilised society should a person with a physical impairment requiring an accessible form of transport be left hoping that suitable transport will as a matter of course be dispatched to their area or have to call a transport authority to arrange a special form of vehicle when other members of the public can fully expect transport suitable to their needs.
To use a transport pun, where do we get off on not providing widespread suitable transport for all people regardless of their lot in life?
Government at all levels - be it local, state or federal really should mandate equality of access in the three key areas of housing, transport and private and public building accessibility wherever possible to make up for the dreadful ills of past policy.
To simply have building codes in housing and general construction as they are at present and the gradual growth of accessible transport is not a happy state of affairs for those in the community that struggle just to participate in the basic aspects of society. After all, with equality of access comes equality of opportunity.
Follow Tom on Twitter at @aussiepollies
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