Friday, 2 December 2016

A path to nowhere.

[Image: A concrete path stops sharply ending in green grass and worn dirt. A woman's lilac compression stockings knees and edge of black and white skirt are seen alongside the joystick controls of her electric wheelchair.]



Once upon a time there was a disabled woman who lived in a medium-sized country town. After years of dependence and isolation she was finally bequeathed a magical wheelchair. This wheelchair had the power to bring back her independence and allow her to access the world around her in her own time and without a man servant/husband/son to push her. She would no longer be bound to the whims of time off, or after hours, or being propped where her man servants decided to prop her instead of where she wanted to be.

The disabled woman was excited to receive her chair. She promptly hopped in and took her first ride to freedom. She rode around her housing estate and promptly stopped as the foot path ended in a pile of dirt and stones and a busy country road. Undeterred she tried for another path only to find that too ended in grass and little more than a foot worn dirt track two hands span across. Undeterred she once more took off only to find all other exits leading to the main road between her town and the next. Dirt and gravel or thick potholed grass instead of foot path. Trucks carry livestock and farming goods thundered towards her at speed. The woman could not leave her housing estate. She was once more at the whim of a single car that could carry her chair or a public carriage service that could be employed to lug her for a substantial price where she wished to go. If it was available. And she wasn't in a hurry. Or knew the day before what she needed to do and had booked in advance. The disabled woman was frustrated and sad, and full of expletives and rising anger.




Earlier this year a path was proposed that would lead from the housing estate I live in to the rest of the town. I was excited. Such a path would mean that I could finally leave my house unaccompanied and go for a coffee, to the library, local gallery or take a turn in the park. I filled out the surveys and attended the community consultation sessions. My husband spent time on the phone and filled in the same surveys. I went to the council meeting and had my say, as did my husband. Whilst I was not happy with the eventual route the path would take due to it's isolation, I resigned myself to the fact that this path would still at least allow me to access town and I could always invest in a tasar or add a battering ram to my chair. It was supposed to start being built by the end of 2016. But week after week went by and none of the usual signs of an upcoming infrastructure build eventuated. So I contacted my council. I was informed that not only would construction not be starting by the end of this year but that tenders would only be sent out early 2017 for the first half of the path only. First half. Not even the whole path. Not to build. But for the tender process. Which will take, well who knows. The second section. Well at present it is supposed to be completed at some point within the 2017/18 financial period. But there'll be a first half. At some point. I'll get to roll along to another edge. Another slab of concrete ending in grass, gravel and frustrated access.


At the council meeting I tried to impress on the councillors that this path was not just about an alternate way to walk kids to school or a pretty walk to run with your dog, that for people like myself it is about a lifeline to the rest of the town. That this path represents the removal of a financial impost (the use of an accessible taxi service to carry me and my wheelchair) that other members of the community need not pay thanks to the choices that come from being able-bodied or being able to drive. That at present to simply go into town independently to have a coffee I am already slugged with $30 long before I consider a long black at my local cafe, or head to the library to check out a book. That a need for the hospital or medical centre would also attract the same fee. That this path represented an independence that has been lacking in my life since moving to this town nearly three years ago. That as much as I want to participate in my community I am bound by costs with no alternative offered up. That dependence is foistered upon me by the lack of a path. And that I am not alone. There are disabled people, frail people, people who at present are not disabled but could become so at any point in time. And that all of these people required a path for the most basic of needs, access.



Image: an empty council chamber. Blue-grey carpet and a circular wooden table set up with microphones, coloured water bottles and name tags sit in front of a lectern for community members to speak. A lectern as I found out not set up for members of the community who may be in a wheelchair and unable to stand.]



I am resigned to my concerns about safety being wiped away by “there'll be lights” (how that helps in the day I'm not sure) or that there was a reliance on the presence of other users (which will primarily be early morning or after work, not at all during the day). That the path is now to run through an isolated park situated next to open farm land and behind an industrial area and stock yards, because this is a “prettier location” a supposedly safer location. I am not resigned to the fact that this path is not seen as a form of accessibility rather than a nice place to walk the dog or kids to school.


I received this email on the same week as the council was celebrating Social Inclusion Week 2016 with events on all week. None of which I could attend without paying the roughly $30 for a round trip to town. And I sit here with International Day of People with Disability coming up on the 3rd of Dec trying not to get angry about access, (or that after contacting my local council again I am told that there are no events planned for IDPWD on the 3rd. )


To add insult to injury this story about the giant sink hole in the Japanese town of Fukuoka. A giant sink hole involving significant engineering filled in a week. A week. That such a large and important project could be rectified in such a short turn around and my local council can't build a path for two plus years.




Do I hassle my council again? A tiring process that involves large walls of red tape to beat my head against. Should I attend another meeting to be say my piece, when I know I will be ignored or patronised (eg last time I was there a councillor suggested that I and a member of council who was also a wheelchair user could race together at the opening of the path). Should I see them go wow I hadn't considered that, but I'll ignore that factor anyway. Should I have to? Should I or any other disabled person living in this large and expanding section of town have to fork out even more money to do the most basic of activities such as going to the doctor, to buy some milk, or have a cup of coffee? All activities which support local businesses.


1 in 5 people live with disability. 1 in 5 people rely on basic things such as pathways to access their community. Don't talk about social inclusion when you are delaying pathways that would increase inclusion. Don't talk about social inclusion if I and others in other sections of the town without paths, pay $35 for the privilege of a coffee at a local cafe by virtue of my disability. Or are left to stay home yet again doing loops of a housing estate trying not to go stir crazy.



Michelle

 

1 comment:

  1. I totally get where you are coming from, this makes me so mad!

    ReplyDelete

All who are lovely enough to comment should be showered with cup cakes, glitter and macarons. I promise to use my spoon bending mind powers to try and get that happening for all who are lovely enough to share their words. Those who go the extra step to share posts should really get a free unicorn. Or at least the gift of finding the shortest and quickest line at the supermarket on a regular basis. xx