BLOG: Negotiating obstacles no holiday

Imagine going out to dinner and finding the restaurant has no toilet facilities. Or the only way to get in the door is if your friends manhandle you unceremoniously and end up dropping you on the floor where you then have to find what little dignity you have left and face the other diners whose forks have stopped halfway to their mouths as they stare at you vainly trying to get to your feet?

Or what if you went away for the weekend and found that the only type of accommodation available meant you had to leave your clothes, car, and essential items out in the street?

You'd probably write to the mayor/local member/council and tell them exactly what you thought of their tourism industry and its inability to cater to even your most basic needs.

But that's exactly what a friend mine experienced when he came to visit a quaint seaside village on the South Coast last weekend.

My friend is not a celebrity, not someone who complains too much and is used to facing adversity, but the weekend proved even too much for this usually placid gent.

As a 40-plus-year-old man in a wheelchair, he's had to deal with a lot of prejudice, and has overcome a lot of challenges, but in the 21st century he thought he'd be able to enjoy a coastal retreat like his able-bodied mates.

Access to train stations and other public facilities was a hot topic this week in the region's news and this lack of recognition of the needs of people with a disability is not a new complaint.

Public transport is perhaps one of the major obstacles for people with a disability especially if you use the rail service. Even able-bodied passengers can find the flights of stairs a challenge especially if you're pushing a stroller, carrying luggage or just plain tired.

Imagine trying to save the environment by catching the train if you're in a wheelchair and happen to live in Unanderra?

Instead of seeing green, you'd be seeing a very bright shade of red.

We have pet-friendly, gay-friendly and family-friendly accommodation popping up all over, but rooms that can accommodate wheelchairs, walking frames or even walking sticks are hard to come by.

I met a woman about five years ago who had resorted to buying an old weatherboard house in the town that she outfitted with disabled access ramps, kitchen and bathroom so she had somewhere to take a vacation with her young family.

She told me about the lack of facilities not just on the South Coast but up and down the entire eastern seaboard. Trying to find suitable accommodation was just too difficult, so by buying her own she figured she would be able to offer the cottage to others in similar situations when it was vacant.

People with a disability have been campaigning for decades for equal rights and the opportunity to live their lives with the same dignity and respect we take for granted. And although most of us would never openly discriminate against a person with a disability, it seems that even with their high-profile messages over my lifetime, communities still turn a blind eye to their needs and rights.

There are building codes that stipulate there must be disabled access and facilities in certain premises but perhaps these codes don't go far enough.

Surely in 2014, people with a disability have earned the right - not the privilege - to have their own needs met as do pampered pets, fun-loving families and same-sex couples.

They're not asking for the red carpet treatment, just perhaps a ramp or two and some loos that are a little larger than the old-fashioned water closet.


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