Whenever we go somewhere for the first time I call ahead to ask about access for Chelsea. I am usually told sure no problem, then when I get there they tell me could you just drive around the building turn left go in thru the loading bay next to the dumpster and then the three guys from maintenance, or the two big guys from down the hall will lift her chair!
120kg chair+5kg equipment+55kg teenager , Good Luck with that then is usually my response and then we have to turn around and go someplace else.
Access is not a guy lifting you up in your chair, risking slipped discs, rotator cuff and knee injuries and why oh why is the disabled entrance always next to the dumpster…
Access for all is of course a design, logistics and planning issue especially in older buildings and cities but mostly I believe it is about attitude.
Here in Singapore we are small enough, modern enough and have more than enough money to ensure access and mobility for everyone. I’ve lived here 17 years and up until 5 years ago my view on access was driven by how hard it used to be when the kids were little to get around with a buggy. Try a 120kg wheelchair – you can’t pick her or it up and carry them up the steps like I used to with the buggy.
We have learned that for us the access challenge in Singapore starts with the height of the car park (entrance must be more than 2m most are less than 1.9m), continues with the size of the elevator (electric wheelchairs are longer and wider so she doesn’t always fit into the small lifts), is prohibited by the doorways and the aisles in stores and restaurants (you can only knock down displays, people and chairs so many times) and more than anything access is restricted by the gawps, tuts, stares and often ignorance of the people around us. (see Don’t Stare post)
We have a
car van so we are miles ahead of many wheelchair users in Singapore who use public transport or rely on the heroic volunteers at HWA, SPD, AWWA and all the other excellent charities that work within the community.The MRT (subway) is becoming much more accessible and great kudos to the government for all the new accessible stations and trains – the problem is how do you get to them from your house? Only some buses accept wheelchairs, only London Taxis (and about 8 SMRT taxis) can take people in wheelchairs, and the sidewalks are a nightmare that will mean you usually end up risking everything by walking on the road.
Without the right attitude and support of the community full accessibility will never happen. One thing I know about Singapore is that if the government decides to make it happen – it will.
Time to step up Singapore and take a leadership position here in Asia for all wheelchair bound Singaporeans and people across the region.
International Wheelchair Day has events in Australia, UK, Nepal and supporters in the US, Australia and at home in the UK – help make it bigger. Find out if anything is going on in your country – to increase understanding and awareness of the challenge and help make access for all a reality.