Monday, 7 August 2017

Out to Lunch!

How lovely! An invitation to a reunion lunch.

I'm on the phone straightaway.


     "Hello, I've been invited to lunch at your hotel. Can you please tell me whether it's wheelchair accessible?"

     "Oh yes, fully accessible!" says the girl on the other end enthusiastically.

On many occasions I've heard a place to be proclaimed accessible because many people understand that to mean 'no steps'. I'm not convinced because the building is South Australia's oldest continuously licensed hotel (since 1837, six months after the colony of South Australia was established) and is probably on the heritage list. I know that the original thresholds at the front have large steps (but there is probably level access via the side or rear) so I enquire further: 


     "So the building is accessible; do you have wheelchair accessible toilet facilities?"

     "Yes we do; not a problem. The building and the toilets are wheelchair accessible."


With this information, I accept the lunch invitation with great anticipation.

Usually when I go to a venue for the first time, I like to find out where the accessible toilets are because they are often in a different place to the regular toilets.  If I know the location in advance, I can make sure I am positioned where it is easy to excuse myself from the room discreetly. 

There's nothing worse than being crowded into a space and having to ask people to move out of the way so that my wheelchair can get through, especially at events like seminars and presentations where there are likely to be guest speakers and quiet audiences.  Also, who wants to be disturbed from their meal by having to rise and move their chairs to let someone pass?  I am not comfortable with that and it embarrasses me. I don't want to be the centre of a 'scene'.

On arrival, the entry is discovered to be through a side gate to the 'beer garden.'  I scan the area and see a door with the 'toilet' sign on it and the 'man' and 'woman' symbols on it.   I cannot see a door with a disability access symbol on it anywhere nearby but not to worry.

My companion and I find the back door to the building (wide double doors and a flat threshold) which leads us through a rear foyer which has internal doors to the ladies' toilet on the left and the men's toilet on the right.  I cannot see a disability access symbol anywhere.

We follow the hallway straight ahead and down a ramp to the public bar and dining areas. As we pass the bar manager going the other way, I ask him where the accessible toilets are and he says, "Out the back the way you came," as he continues on his errand. 

"Perhaps they are off the beer garden beyond the corner of the building," I thought to myself.  Not to worry. Let's enjoy lunch.  It was lovely company and a cheap, affordable, tasty meal. 

When the time came, I excused myself from the table and went back to find the accessible toilet.  From the foyer, I could not find any more toilet doors so I opened the door to the ladies' room in case there was an accessible cubicle within. What's inside the door but a step on the threshold. That's not accessible.

I couldn't open the doors to the beer garden by myself so I went back to check with the bar manager again.

     "Where do I find your accessible toilet?  I don't remember seeing one in the beer garden."

     "It is there. I will show you, if you like."

 
Ever so politely and with a helpful attitude, he leads the way back out the door to the beer garden and shows me the very first door I came across - the one with no disability access symbol on it. He gestures towards the door with a friendly smile:

     "Here is the accessible toilet." 



A red wooden door in a black frame. The top half of the door is a clear glass window which has been covered over on the inside. A security company's yellow sticker is on the window. There are three signs: "Toilets", female symbol, male symbol. The path leading to the doorway is made of grey slate pavers. The concrete floor of the toilet area protrudes from under the door as a step approximately 5 cm tall.
Why did I not notice the 'accessible' before?
Because it didn't have a disability access symbol on it.
Now I know why–look at that step on the threshold!



     "That is NOT accessible."

He listens with surprise and interest as I explain that no matter how small the step, a step is a step and not every wheelchair can traverse it.  Electric chairs are heavy which means they cannot tilt easily if at all. The small wheels on many chairs (and wheelie walkers) get caught on even the smallest of steps.  

I've had people pushing me in my wheelchair who don't see a small bump in the pavement and I have almost been turfed out on more than one occasion when my chair came to an abrupt halt but my body wanted to keep moving forward!

This all seemed to be news to the attentive young man. The bar manager examined the toilet's threshold and decided:

     "It wouldn't take much to fix that - it shouldn't take more than a few hours' work to build a small ramp."

It was refreshing to hear his 'can do' attitude and conviction about such a simple fix. He appeared to be genuinely conciliatory. 

Fortunately for me, I was in my 'tippy' chair, the one that is balanced so I can lift the front wheels off the ground easily (do 'wheelies') and it was able to get me over the threshold. My other chair which I often use for long outings would not have been able to negotiate that step and I would have been stuck.

Close-up of the step: the bottom of the red wooden door which has scuff marks on its lower third and is set in a black door frame. The red-painted, concrete floor of the toilet area protrudes from under the door, creating a step which is approximately 5 cm or 2 inches tall. The path in front of the door is made of grey slate pavers.
A closer look at that step which is
approximately 5 cm (2 inches) tall.

The door itself was not the greatest either. It was heavy and spring loaded to close so I needed assistance from a friend who held the door open for me so I could get through the door. 

I am grateful to have had help but it is not very dignified to have someone else waiting outside a toilet door, listening closely for your call to be let out again.  

Able-bodied people don't have to be treated like children by having other people wait outside the door in case they need help so why should adults with disabilities?  This would not be necessary if the facility were designed for people to use it independently.

Once inside the toilet area, it was good - plenty of  space to turn a wheelchair, hand rails and a sink that one could reach because the wheelchair could get underneath it.

What has probably happened here, as is often the case, is that the building owners have looked at the standard specifications for a wheelchair accessible toilet and built the room to the correct size, added the right fittings etc. all to design specifications in order to 'tick a box' for building regulations while neglecting the basic idea that users need to be able to actually get into the room to be able to use it!

I told the bar manager that I had been misinformed by staff and that he needs to let everyone know that their toilet is NOT ACCESSIBLE.  He said he would look into fixing the step. So he should indeed as it is a tripping hazard to the general public anyway!

It would be fantastic to see that toilet fully accessible by the time I ever return.  I doubt I ever will though because the path through the back gate was so uneven with crooked, tilted and uneven surfaces (including a hole caused by missing or sunken pavers right in the middle of the gateway) that my chair almost overbalanced and I narrowly avoided getting tipped out sideways into the road!


That's another battle - I'll let the publican deal with one access issue at a time!


Links


Australian Human Rights Commission, Sydney NSW Australia, accessed 6 August 2017:

Disability Advocacy & Complaints Service of SA Inc. (DACSSA), Adelaide, South Australia, accessed 7 August 2017: http://www.dacssa.org.au/

Disability Services Commission WA, "Buildings and Facilities Checklist": http://www.disability.wa.gov.au/Global/Publications/For%20business%20and%20government/DAIPs/Buildings-and-facilities-checklist-for-Outcome-2-and-Outcome-7.pdf

Equal Access Pty Ltd, Notting Hill Vic Australia, online articles accessed 6 August 2017:

Equal Opportunity Commission, "Disability Standards for Access to Premises", online article, Government of South Australia, accessed 6 August 2017: http://www.eoc.sa.gov.au/eo-you/discrimination-laws/australian-laws/disability-discrimination-act/disability-access-standards

Federal Register of Legislation, "Disability (Access to Premises — Buildings) Standards 2010 as amended", F2011C00214, Australian Government, 1 May 2011: https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2011C00214

Palenzuela, Karen, "Questioning Assumptions about Disability", Ramp Up website, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2 May 2014: http://www.abc.net.au/rampup/articles/2014/05/01/3996019.htm
Includes edited transcript of Stella Young's Sydney TEDx talk, linked below.

Westlund, Michelle, "The Ups and Downs of Ramps and Stairs" blog entry, Crochet Between Worlds, 20 January 2015: http://crochetbetweentwoworlds.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/the-ups-and-downs-of-ramps-and-stairs.html 

Young, Stella, "Inspiration Porn and the Objectification of Disability", TEDx talk, Sydney, Australia, 26 April 2014: https://tedxsydney.com/talk/inspiration-porn-and-the-objectification-of-disability-stella-young/



Related Posts on Lupey Loops


"Access All Areas: International Access Symbol", 14 November 2014: https://lupeyloops.blogspot.com.au/2014/11/access-all-areas-international-access.html

"Access All Areas: Stella Young", 9 January 2015: https://lupeyloops.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/access-all-areas-stella-young.html

"Access All Areas: Michelle's Melbourne Adventure",13 February 2015: https://lupeyloops.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/access-all-areas-michelles-melbourne.html

10 comments:

  1. Oh, this is SOOOOOO familiar!

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  2. People really don't get what accessibility means - to its full extent. There really needs to be a clear standard that ALL businesses should have to incorporate. I hear so many stories like yours... And it's just not good enough.
    I do hope you had a nice time, despite the issues!

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    Replies
    1. I had a lovely time meeting new friends and becoming re-acquainted with old ones.

      The experience of having someone waiting to hear me call made me wonder: what happens when the beer garden is full of patrons and happily rowdy? Not everybody has the capacity to raise their voices to call someone either. You are right - NOT GOOD ENOUGH!

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  3. This makes be cranky on your behalf, but it sounds like you took it in stride. I suppose people need to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, or wheel a mile in someone else's wheelchair to really understand what accessible means. I hope this place follows up and makes their washroom truly accessible.

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    1. Me too, Mary-Anne.

      Let's hope the establishment takes action - by not providing accessible premises, they are missing out on a significant market sector. With our ageing population, there are going to be more and more patrons who will appreciate facilities that meet universal access standards.

      If businesses don't have an understanding of access and inclusion issues, they will continue to market their service as 'accessible' even when it is not, which just creates bad will from customers. (Not a good business move.)

      Maybe I should email this hotel and give them the link to this blog post to further their understanding? Do you think they would read it if I did?

      This doesn't only affect patrons with disability but their friends, families and associates as well. Let's say I chose a venue knowing that I want to invite a person with a disability: if the venue told me that they were accessible and, on arrival, it was clearly not accessible, it puts me, as the event organiser, in a very awkward spot and I would feel upset, angry, guilty and embarrassed; most of all, I would feel bad for my guest. These sorts of issues do affect relationships. I would not be willing to use those premises in the future or; if I were someone less passionate about social inclusion, I might decide it's all too hard and next time NOT invite the person with a disability which further isolates someone who may already be feeling marginalised.

      These seemingly 'little' things (like a 'little' step on a threshold) are more than simple physical barriers - they create social barriers also.

      "The littlest things can make the biggest difference."

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    2. Yes you should send your post to management. Accessibility is becoming a bigger and bigger issue as we age. My husband can't walk for long distances and one of our favourite parks will no longer let anyone drive in. Not even with a handicap parking pass. Sigh.

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  4. You are doing an important service, highlighting this issue, Jodie, but I hope that you also had an enjoyable time at the reunion.
    Amalia
    xo

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    Replies
    1. Hi Amalia,

      I'm sorry if I didn't give much detail about the reunion. It is an annual function for old scholars but I hadn't been for about 5 years. This year the arrangement was to go out to lunch with the girls and then go on to the school function later (which we did).

      The oldest old scholar in attendance was 92 and the youngest students attending were the current prefects who help to host the event. We were entertained by musical performances and art displays by current students. We have a look back in time at what it was like at the school in a particular year, the current events of the day and newsworthy events within the school community of that year.

      The old scholars who graduated in that year will share their stories about life at school for them and how it influenced their lives. Our school experiences and the attitudes and values within our particular school have had profound effects on the courses of our lives.

      In past years we have been inspired by other 'old girls' who appreciated the privilege and opportunities afforded by a high school education such as being prepared for a university education at a time when the majority view in Australian society was that girls did not need to be educated past primary school.

      These women went on to achieve amazing things, personally and professionally, paving the way for the women of today to expect and demand equal rights to education and more.

      Our reunions are friendly, reflective, inspirational and fun. We raise money for student prizes with raffles and games. The camaraderie and wisdom in the room is amazing.

      The only thing I cannot get used to is calling my former teachers by their first names!

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    2. That is funny about calling the former teachers by their first names. I am friends with a number of my former students and some of them (and even their parents) still call me Mrs. Taylor. Old habits are hard to break.

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