Monday, 13 November 2017

Access All Areas: Making Waves


Last Friday morning, it was exciting to be  'making waves' at Brighton Beach in many ways:
water waves in Gulf St Vincent and
social and radio waves with
ABC Radio Adelaide!





Here's a picture of the ABC Radio Roving Reporter, Spence Denny, and me ready for a live-cross to the ABC Adelaide morning program, hosted by Presenter and Journalist David Bevan.

Spence is sitting in my spare wheelchair so he could experience first-hand the bumpy ride created by the surface of a new ramp which is covered in ridged tiles.  

Spence had never used a wheelchair before and he was very brave for trusting me to guide him along the ramp, especially since we were joined together by microphone cables etc. 

It was fun but also 'serious' fun because the issue under discussion was wheelchair access to a beautiful, modern stretch of footpath (a 'boardwalk' if you like) designed for people to stroll alongside the beach at Brighton, South Australia.  It is also an access ramp to beach level for members of the Brighton Surf Life Saving Club.


A photo of the Brighton Boardwalk from Google Maps' 'Street View'.
Previously only accessible by stairs, this lowered section of
footpath now has ramp access.
The new ramp can easily be identified by the blue-grey coloured tiles on its surface.

How this adventure came about

On Wednesday, the ABC Adelaide morning radio program, hosted by David Bevan, conducted a discussion about footpath access–in particular, street clutter like bus shelters, signposts, A-frame advertising signs etc.–and the difficulties faced by people who use wheelchairs, walkers, prams, canes and other mobility devices.  
After interviews with a celebrity wheelchair user, Quentin Kenihan, and various disability advocates, the phones were opened up to the public.

I couldn't help myself and phoned in to give examples of urban developments which 'on paper' are compliant with disability access standards but 'in practice' are not practicable for wheelchair users. I called for better awareness from urban planners, architects and landscapers. 

These design people should know better and, if they don't, they need to prioritise consultation with disability advocates and behavioural scientists at the very beginning of their projects if they want to make sure that their new developments will be truly accessible and inclusive.

I used the Brighton Boardwalk ramp as an example of a ramp that has the right railings, enough width, the incline is not too steep and it has regular level 'rest platforms' that meet the disability access standards.  It ticks the boxes so it's properly accessible by wheelchair users, right?

Wrong!  The choice of surface finish makes it the most unpleasant strip of pavement I've used in a very long time.  The first (and last) time I used it was during a visit with my family and it was so unpleasant, I made a mental note to myself to remember never to go there again because the experience was so bad.

The problem is not the ramp itself but the choice of surface finishblue-grey synthetic tiles (possibly made of recycled materials) which have a series of ridged lines across them, with crevices between each line. This corrugated surface causes a wheelchair at walking pace to bump, vibrate, rattle and bounce!  

It might be an entertaining ride for toddlers in prams, but for people with disabilities, it is enough to jar sensitive bodies and painful joints, causing damage and pain that will linger for much longer than the time spent at the beach.  By the time I reached the middle of the ramp, I felt like I was on an amusement park ride that I just wanted to get off!  It made me extremely nauseous. It was horrid!

Spence said, "If you haven't stirred your coffee you wouldn't need to now!"

After the talkback segment on Wednesday morning, the producers of the program invited me to participate in a live segment from the offending location at Brighton Beach, South Australia.

It has been posted to the ABC Radio Adelaide web site here:
http://www.abc.net.au/radio/adelaide/programs/mornings/mornings/9118306

This is the dangerous parking strip above the 'Brighton Boardwalk'
that also gets a mention.
When cars are parked in the disability access bay,
they obstruct access to the kerb ramp alongside.
Wheelchair users parked along the strip need to wheel onto the main, busy roadway between the 'keep left' median strip and the footpath
to reach the next kerb ramp adjacent to the roundabout.


Some people might accuse me of being a 'WWW' ('Whinging Woman in a Wheelchair'). There is a certain attitude in some parts of society which expects people with disabilities to be 'grateful' for any little concession given by able-bodied people. This attitude is focussed on the needs of those who want to feel good about themselves for being 'charitable'. It's about their able-bodied, privileged egos and not about the needs of people with disabilities.

When people with disabilities have valid complaints about equity, they are frequently attacked for being 'ungrateful' even when their basic human rights (and right to complain) are not respected; e.g. "We gave you a ramp, who cares if you can't use it, you should be grateful we even bothered." This sort of statement immediately highlights the power imbalance between those with and without disabilities and the way that people with disabilities are often treated as 'other' or 'lesser' than everyone else.
A wheelchair similar to mine.

One talkback caller had no sympathy whatsoever and described the ramp experience as being 'slightly uncomfortable' for wheelchair users so 'bad luck'.  This caller fails to realise that for many wheelchair users it is  not 'mere inconvenience' but it can cause real pain and damage to people.  If someone cannot use a path without becoming injured, then it is inaccessible. 




People with disabilities deserve the same rights to public amenity as everyone else and that means being able to access the boardwalk without getting sick or injured.


Imagine how you would feel if you had been unable to get outside for months and then you got access to a wheelchair and personal support for an outing to the beach.  What a marvellous opportunity for respite and some quality of life.  I would be looking forward to an outing like that. 

(When illness shrinks your world to the confines of your bedroom, simple excursions that others take for granted can loom large on the horizon of future expectations.)

After all that time looking forward to a happy experience, how would you feel if your outing was spoiled when you encountered this corrugated pathway and it left you feeling more sore and exhausted than you were before you left home?  


I suspect that the tiled surface may have been chosen for one of the following reasons:
  • non-slip surface on an incline
  • water drainage
  • discourage skateboarders (and other perceived 'pests')
  • cost of materials (maybe they got a good deal?)
  • possibly recycled materials (trying to be environmentally friendly) 
Regarding the non-slip properties: there are other non-slip treatments that can be applied to smooth surfaces. Long before these ridged tiles came along, there have been non-slip treatments available for indoors (bathroom tiles) and outdoors (around pool areas). 

It was interesting to hear one of the talkback callers say that the ridged tiles are the sort often found at the top of staircases to provide a non-slip surface.  They then went on to say that the ridges on the tiles create a tripping hazard, particularly for older people.

Later on Friday, I went to the hospital for a regular appointment and one of the (able-bodied) staff there said a similar thing: she goes running and has had direct experience with those ridges that are notorious for catching one's toes.

She had nothing complimentary to say about the blue-grey ridged tiles:
  • they get extremely hot in summer
  • they hurt to walk on in bare feet (that's what my daughter said too!)
  • they catch the toes of your shoes causing a tripping hazard
  • the tiles collect the sand which makes them slippery
  • the sand makes them rough
  • "I would hate for anyone to fall on them as it would be very nasty."

Apparently this surface has also been used on the paths around Seacliff beach as well. Seacliff is the very beach which had the very first 'roll out' mat to allow wheelchair users access to the water's edge.  

I will be so dismayed if this paving surface becomes more widespread.  Wouldn't it be a shame if the installation of this surface negated the benefits of the 'roll out' beach access mat?

I would love to know what other beachgoers and wheelchair users think?  Please feel free to leave comments, questions and stories in the box below or email jodiebodiecrochets@gmail.com

I know it's not 'just me' and it worried me when I thought I caught a glimpse of this same material on a path to access the tram or train line. (I can't remember which but will let you know when I travel that way again!)

Finally, could someone from the City of Holdfast Bay tell me exactly who suggested this surface and why!


P.S. Correction: in the radio segment I said I had been using a wheelchair since 2007 but my daughter, whose memory is so much sharper than mine, corrected me: it was 2005! 


References & Links

ABC Radio Adelaide, Mornings with David Bevan, Australian Broadcasting Corporation: http://www.abc.net.au/radio/adelaide/programs/mornings/



City of Holdfast Bay, web site: https://www.holdfast.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=3743

David Bevan 

Jodiebodie

Quentin Kenihan 
 

14 comments:

  1. Good for you Jodie, I hope town planners etc sit up and take notice. I imagine those ridges are really uncomfortable for people with arthritic feet to walk on too...
    xxx

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    1. Hi Tracey,
      You make an excellent point about arthritis, especially since the South Australian population's average age is one of the oldest in the country.
      I keep hearing the voice of the health worker from the hospital who considers the tiles an accident waiting to happen. "If someone goes over onto that surface, the results will be really nasty."
      I was hoping that someone involved in the boardwalk design would respond on air but perhaps there was no one available at the time.

      Maybe the project is bigger than local government and part of a wider State Government plan. There has been talk about a long boardwalk trail along our metropolitan coastline that crosses local government borders but I am not sure about the details.

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  2. Awesome post, Jodie - and I'm horrified, as always, that so little consultation happened prior to the ramp being installed, but am, sadly, not at all surprised! This MUST change... I do hope there's some good feedback across the board from your radio experience.

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    1. Oh, you and me both, Kaz! (exasperation!)

      The problem is that these sorts of access barriers are everywhere, every day.

      If people with disabilities lobbied about each instance, they would have no time to get on with their own lives. Following up physical access barriers can easily be a full-time job and it is draining to be lodging complaints all the time, especially when the complaints are often dismissed and trivialised by the people who have the power to make a difference.

      What's worse, many people have much more pressing, bigger battles to fight whether they are battles of human rights and equity or battles with their own health conditions.

      People are tired of carrying the torch, especially when change has been very slow over the past 35 years. It's not good enough but who has the energy to waste by chasing one's tail?

      In the past, it has been difficult for people with disabilities to complain because of the power imbalance that can exist which makes people with disabilities vulnerable to abuse. Often people are frightened to complain for fear of retribution from their care providers. Ask any professional disability advocate and they will be able to give examples where this has happened so the fear is valid.

      Disability access is usually 'not on the radar' of able-bodied people unless they have had some personal connection. I am hoping that changes to disability support services (NDIS) will allow people with disabilities more freedom and support to get out and about in their communities.

      The more people with disabilities can be visible in their communities, the better chance we have of raising disability awareness in the general population.

      (There are generations of Australians who have no experience with disability because they grew up in a time when people with disabilties were cloistered away in institutional settings - how convenient to hide them away so everyone else can pretend they don't exist and avoid the confrontation of human frailty and, by extension, their own mortality.)

      I try to get out and about and involved in community events as much as possible and am not shy about pointing out access issues when they are encountered. The amount of goodwill in the community is high and, once a barrier is explained, most people are surprised and shocked that 'the bleeding obvious' barrier exists. If one new person goes away with a new realisation, it's another small step towards increasing awareness (and eventual change).

      It is clear to me that we need a groundswell of community support to influence planners, politicians and decision-makers. We need the able-bodied to raise their voices together with people with disabilities in order to be heard against the negative dismissive attitudes that still want to devalue people with disabilities as a 'burden'.

      There is so much untapped potential in the disability community. An economist might call it lost productivity. Just think: how much could be achieved to improve our society if people with disabilities weren't held back by access issues and attitudinal barriers?

      I know I could certainly contribute a lot more! I don't know when my next major setback will hit me so I am doing my best to use my voice while I still have it - to make up for when I didn't have the strength, and for those who are in that place now who can't raise their voices.

      Sorry about the long reply - you got me going, Kaz! It was going to be either a very short exasperated exclamation or a lengthy soapbox! Sorry, you got the jackpot today! hehehe ;-) Hugs to you in thanks and in support to keep on hanging in there! xx

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  3. How do 'we' keep getting this so wrong?

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    1. That is an excellent question, Jane. Please keep asking it everywhere! We all have a sphere of influence.

      My answer, in a word: ignorance.

      In more than a few words: I suspect it is a combination of human nature and politics, money over morality, individual needs vs greater good, integrity and care vs corruption.

      I shared a few ideas in my response to Kaz above but I think it is also an example of the global trends towards increasing selfishness in society together with a drop in empathy towards others.

      Still, when disability can happen to anyone, anywhere at any time, it surprises and puzzles me that people cannot see the importance of equity and support for people with disabilities, even if it is just to create a 'safety-net' for themselves, just in case.

      When I was a little girl, I was taught to imagine how it might feel to be in someone else's position and to treat others how I would like to be treated. What has happened in our society that allows those in the privileged positions to be so ignorant and disrespectful of fellow human beings? Who are they to treat others callously and cruelly?

      I can't go on or I will get angry and upset! I would love it though if you and others continued to challenge people with your question(s), remembering that when we provide wheelchair & disability access, we are usually helping other members of society; e.g., parents with prams, workers with trolleys or luggage on castors, people with bad knees and hips, people of short stature etc.

      I know I am preaching to the converted here and I appreciate your support so, so much.

      Your question goes right to the heart of a 'systemic' problem in government and society. Thank you. xxx

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  4. And what works for one group may be a hazard for another. My father tripped at the top of the ramp into the city railway station some years ago and broke his leg. He tripped on the strip designed to alert the visually impaired because he had problems lifting a foot after knee surgery and the surface needed to be adjusted. (Now he couldn't even access the station but that's another story.) Access is a very complex business and the experts (you and even me) need to be consulted!

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    1. That is so true that 'what works for one group may be a hazard for another'.

      The tactile paving tiles designed to help people with vision impairments to navigate their neighbourhoods are fantastic and so important and yet for others, their raised bumps can be treacherous for those who are prone to tripping or uncomfortable for those of us with wheeled mobility aids.

      The difference between tactile paving and the tiles on the Brighton Boardwalk is that the tactile paving is usually of a high contrast colour. It can be seen easily from a distance and one can prepare for manouevering over or around them.

      Their width is a tiny distance so the discomfort of their bumps lasts for only seconds. As a person with a disability that affects mobility, I appreciate the importance of the tactile paving to guide people with vision impairments to keep people safe and oriented in their community. I am happy to tolerate discomfort that lasts only seconds because I don't want to deny other people their mobility and such a short duration of discomfort is less likely to have lasting after-effects.

      Compare the Brighton boardwalk which appears deceivingly benign. When one makes the judgment to traverse it, one doesn't realise how bumpy it will be. The boardwalk is much longer than a tactile paver so one is enduring the effects of the surface for an extended time.

      The vibration lasts long enough to stir one's insides and dislodge items from their holders on my wheelchair. For anyone recovering from broken bones, I can only imagine how much pain such bouncing and jolting would bring. I know with my own arthritic joints, such jarring causes lasting pain.

      In my experience, I didn't realise the effects until I was halfway along and by then it was too late! I had to continue for more of the same in order to get away from the nastiness. At least with tactile pavers, you can see them coming!

      I'm really sorry to read about your father's experience at the city railway station. What access issues does he have now with accessing the station? I use a lift from the street level down to platform level but that lift is very very tiny. Again, I wonder what people were thinking when designing it.

      Asking the right people in the planning stage would make perfect sense but there also needs to be the goodwill from the project people to ensure that universal access is prioritised. Often it is treated as an 'afterthought' and when budgets get tight, the last thing added to a project is often the first thing discarded or compromised.

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  5. First of all thank you for all your warm and supportive comments on my blog. It means so much to me to have you in my corner.
    Now about your post - good on him for wheeling a mile in your chair! Puts a whole new spin on walk a mile in my shoes. You are doing such important work and I hope you know I am in your cheering section all the way across the waters.

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    1. Aah, that's a sweet compliment, Mary-Anne, thank you!
      It's always nice to pop in to your blog and 'catch up over a cuppa' with all your news. I love your sense of humour and use of words and you have done it again in your comment here with a new 'spin'! hehehe

      Thank you for the cheers of encouragement which keep me going.
      Do you feel a "Corner to Corner" coming on? hehehe ;-)
      (That's a crochet joke!)

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  6. It seems a nice place to visit. Have a nice day!

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    1. I do enjoy Brighton and Seacliff but it gets extremely busy because it is so popular. It is an attractive stretch of coastline, nice for swimming and sandcastles.

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  7. My sister is an interior architect and wheeling me around Melbourne for a few days every year has totally changed her perspective on the adequacy of the minimum access standards in the building code! Now when she is designing workplaces she always thinks about the awkward corners, the size of bathrooms and door access, uneven surfaces, etc etc. It horrified her to go out with me e.g. to airport toilets where I had to leave the door open because both me and chair wouldn’t fit, and she knew that the design met the minimum standard!

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    1. The building codes need to be reviewed urgently. People have been talking about it for a long time but I am not sure how much progress is being made there.

      The operative word thought is MINIMUM. The standards set out in the code, as your sister rightly recognises, are not adequate. They are a basic guide for people but it is obvious that the intention behind the standard seems to be getting lost otherwise we would not find such absurd examples of places that are good on paper but hopeless in real life.

      Ideally, developers, planners, designers, architects, landscapers and legislators etc. will use their common sense and do their homework (R&D) and provide over and above the minimum standard to provide a fully equitable facility for everyone.

      This week, I went to a brand new pool facility designed for inpatients at a hospital and I was gobsmacked that the showers on the pool deck did not have one handrail between them!

      The shower cubicles assigned as 'disability access' had all their handrails on the wall BEHIND the bench designed for sitting on but the handrails need to be alongside to be useful. I don't know about you but I am not a contortionist and I dare say people living with mobility limitations in the first place are unlikely to be able to hold onto a handrail behind their backs while trying to shower or get changed into fresh clothes.

      I was so exasperated and angry to see a brand new building supposedly designed for a clientele with varying levels of mobility and frailty totally miss the design brief! In this day and age, this is totally outrageous and a false economy because now there will need to be retrofitted equipment. Builders often say that it is dearer to retrofit and cheaper in the long run to do it right in the first place.

      There was no mirror in the 'disability access' change room. Are we not supposed to care about our appearance? So I went into the 'able-bodied' change room to use the mirror above the basin and I couldn't get my wheelchair or knees under it because the basin was sunk in a moulded cabinet that went straight to the floor with no overhang at all. Consequently my wheelchair took up all the space in front of it and blocked access to parts of the change room for other users.

      I wanted to laugh, scream, cry and get angry. I want to gather all those planners, designers, architects and project managers and bang their heads together. They need a good talking to! It is clear that either their university courses are not delivering the information they need to do their jobs properly or their clients are not prioritising their budgets correctly. Grrr!

      Michelle, I really appreciate your story here so much. It exemplifies precisely how things are not changing after 35 years of banging on about access. What more do we need to do, for goodness sake?

      For anyone wanting to find out more about your Melbourne Adventures I remember writing about them on Lupey Loops here:
      http://lupeyloops.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/access-all-areas-michelles-melbourne.html
      which includes a link to your blog where you have published an article "The Ups and Downs of Ramps and Stairs" written by Matthew Dunn who witnessed your difficulties firsthand:
      http://crochetbetweentwoworlds.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/the-ups-and-downs-of-ramps-and-stairs.html

      ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

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