Sydney Morning Herald - Wednesday 10 October, 2007
Merely being able to get around in a wheelchair is a Herculean effort
Cynthia Banham's article ("There's no need to stare at me in my wheelchair", October 9) struck a chord with me, but will mystify many. Surely, they think, wheelchair users are well catered for: ramps and kerb-crossings are everywhere, public transport is wheelchair-accessible, automatic doors abound.
All true, but it's a drop in the ocean. Banham mentions narrow aisles and high counters but not the mindless obstruction caused by individuals.
Wheelchair users are dependent on a paved footpath for mobility. Regularly, in suburbia, it is obstructed by motorists who park in what they believe is "their" driveway.
Confronted by such an obstruction, often the wheelchair user's outing ends. Councils rarely prosecute such parking offenders because they cop so much flak when they do.
Wheelchairs can cope with moderately steep slopes in the direction of travel, but a small transverse slope on the footpath - for example, where a steep driveway crosses it - can cause a wheelchair to capsize. Yet councils continue to approve the construction of such driveway crossings and do nothing about existing ones.
Pedestrians are accustomed to ducking and weaving around overhanging branches, stepping off the footpath to do so; wheelchair users may not have that option if the ground there is soft or broken. This is clearly a council responsibility but I know of no council that routinely clears vegetation obstructing a footpath (though some may respond to specific complaints).
Over the years I've written many times to my local council, and once to my state member of parliament, on all the above points, and others. I have received polite acknowledgement but no action. I've also written to the Spastic Centre, the Multiple Sclerosis Society NSW, ParaQuad and the Pedestrian Council of Australia - all associations of which I was a member at the time. Not one of them even acknowledged receipt of my letter.
As for the staring mentioned by Banham, well, that's just bad manners. When I was in infants' school in the 1950s, good manners were routinely taught and reinforced in classroom and playground, but today their place in the curriculum has given way to more important matters.
I commend Banham for her courage in dealing with the fickle stroke of fate that left her so disabled, and wish her happiness and freedom on her prosthetic legs soon. But she understands, I'm sure, that not all wheelchair users will have that option open to them.
Please, Cynthia, keep up the fight.
Jerry Lattin Narrabeen
PS: A smidgen unfair on the PCA. No group has worked harder in all Australia to address the problems of vehicles parked illegally on footpaths and in driveways. But the importance of this letter should not be under-estimated. A change is in the wind.