Run, Walk, No? Maybe I Can Levitate

The level of stupidity and lack of thought in people, even after five years of using a wheelchair, never seems to amaze me. People who know me still say ” hey run over and check this out ,” or “lets go for a walk.” Recently at a Buddhist temple in Eudlo, Queensland  for teaching on Mindfullness, the teacher informed us that the next part of the exercise everyone should climb the almost 200 steps to the cafe for morning tea, one at a time slowly being mindfull of the process. When I pointed to my wheels she said I was creating obstacles to reaching the goal?

In September, I flew Virgin Blue from Adelaide, South Australia to Brisbane, Queensland, the very butch middle-aged security person told me to walk away and stand in the corner while they x-rayed my chair? Did someone miss that I was in a wheelchair and perhaps that means standing up and walking might be a challenge. At the conclusion of the same flight when they announced that because the aircraft couldn’t pull up to a sky bridge, I must walk down the stairs? When I pointed out the slight problem that I was in a wheelchair they called Federal Police saying that a passenger (me) was refusing to disembark? That, my friends cost Virgin a pretty penny plus all the egg on many faces.

These stories might seem funny or unbelievavable, but to us in wheelchairs it’s everyday life. When we point out we can’t run, skip, jump or hop, please don’t take it to heart, take it to mind. Remember we’re not being difficult we’re being the best we can. If you train people for any business, don’t forget the brain is the biggest tool your staff can arm themselves with. They can either use it to be amazing or to be just that A TOOL !

Anyway, my friends invited me for a walk in the park but hey a roll is pretty cool too. Ciao for now!

Wheelchairs Have Wheels Not Wings or Floaties!

The Sunshine Coast of Queensland is flooding as did other parts of Queensland before it. We are surrounded on 3 sides by rivers. All have broken their banks, you would think the emergency services would plan and prioritize the aged, the infirmed, those in wheelchairs first, then pregnant women, children and then the able bodied.  Sounds logical? Out of concern for the rising flood waters, alerts and continued heavy rains  we rang Nambour police station. 
It seems crime only happens mon-fri 9-5 here because the recording told me thats the hours? Call Maroochydore was the suggestion, so I did. They said “plan for the floods? Not our job. Call the hospital, your disabled your their problem.” The hospitals said ” be aware of local disabled needing help? Are you kidding. I’m not touching that paper work.” The suggestion, call the SES. The SES workers are overwhelmingly a volunteer service that fights bushfires, sandbag during floods and such. So I called them. They responded with ” make a list and prioritize? If we do that for you next everyone will want a list?”

So as I sit here my home is an island, my bags are packed, the rivers broken their banks and the train lines flooded. The Bruce Highway is flooded and cut off in various directions and I’m told” well its your own fault. If I was disabled I’d plan better dont blame us.”

I lived in New York when Katrina hit, the largest number of dead found in homes when the water went down were the disabled still in their wheelchairs. All it would take when this scare is over is to have a voluntary list at every hospital or a PSA on tv directing people to go online and register so that in time of disaster every service knows that someone in a given area is severly handicapped and needs help.

Anyway back to blowing up floaties and tying them to my chair.

Being Forced to Enter Through the Kitchen Used to be Called Racism — Now its Called Disabled Access!

My wife is from New York. I’ve lived there, until recently, for thirteen years. I’ve seen the old signs “colored folk enter by the rear.”  I have sat at the feet of hereos who marched with Martin Luther King Jr and in the 60’s in the South and even in South Australia (where I grew up) there were signs on the pub door saying “dogs welcome coloreds go round the back!”

W e marched on Canberra, they marched on Washington. Someone shot Martin Luther King and Charlie Mabo was killed, but the rights were finally won and so they should have been. However, today there another group who are treated as second class — it is anyone in a wheelchair. When a shop keeper stares at you outside the door of their business and then goes back to reading the paper because they dont care that the 12inch step at the front door is not wheelchair accessible, when the hotel technically meets the disabled access law but puts a three hundred pound concrete planter on the ramp they are saying screw you. When the waiter at The Strand Cafe in Glenelg tells you that your wife can walk in the front door but you have to travel 10 minutes round two streets and a alley to enter past the dumpster, the sign may as well still say coloreds and disabled not welcome.

I know many brave heros who because of no fault of their own, except they were in Iraq doing what most of us are too guttless to dream about, are now wheelchair bound. Whether they have a limb or three missing or some other form of disability are you willing to stand by and let them be treated the same way Rosa Parks was when they told her to “git to the back of the bus?” Is that how you say “Thank You welcome home & job well done?” I’m Australian and I have had family members in every war since the Boer War and except for the disgusting treatment of the Vietnam War vets when they came home I can proudly say hell no.

It shouldn’t matter a tinkers damn whether its a returned vet or a mother with a 10 year old with Cystic Fybrosis, for business owners to care more about the beauty of the front door than the few hundred dollars it costs it costs to provide a ramp is shamefull. What they are saying to me, to the disabled vet, to the mother of that small child is go away your not wanted.

I met the Lord Mayor of Adelaide several weeks ago. He’s cute, he’s young and from what I hear he’s a good guy. He said all the right things when I challenged him on disabled access, pointed out how many groups he supports and donates to. Well, I challenge him to hire a chair for the day, strap himself in and go down Jetty Rd or Rundle Mall, etc and see how a part of the community he feels after constantly being turned away from one business after the other. I challenge the mayors of all our great cities, and anyplace else in the world to do the same. I can promise after 1 day they would storm the bastille for wheelchair rights.  If you are in a chair or know or love someone who is, call, email or write whomever is in power where you are and damand access for it ought never be denied!

Trains, Planes, & Automobiles Down Under — That’s Down Under the Minimium Standard of Care!

Planes, Trains and Automobiles, a soppy funny movie about the John Candy and Steve Martin characters trying to get home for Christmas when everything was closed during a blizzard!

In my real life version we have planes where wheelchair bound passengers are asked, then told to stand up and walk down a staircase onto the tarmac because, well, “your just like everyone else.”  When they don’t because they can’t federal police, not medical staff are called. When said passenger finally disembarks its via a cherrypicker complete with nasty sludge pool on its floor. They say sleeping with “virgins” can be over rated, I say flying with them is a bloody nightmare!

 Then there is the marvelous Australian buses, trams and trains. Now while I must give the state of Queensland much kudos for fully working, well kept elevators at nearly every train stop no matter how small, they are the exception not the rule. Generally, Australia wide, there is a total lack of safety for the wheelchair bound passenger on any public transport. Let me explain ,when you get on a bus in New York City the driver gets up, operates a small elevator, pushes you into place and securely straps you in for the trip! Granted, sometimes annoying but bloody safe . Now for the ausssie version, a middle aged over weight man grumbles “where you getting off mate,” as he sets up a feeble excuse for a ramp secured only by the toe of his work boot on any number of surfaces, then to my surprise when I get on, I’m left to my own devices. Their version of safety is a square of floor with a wheelchair symbol painted on it and one pitiful excuse for a handle (if your lucky) and you hold on for bloody dear life.

If you want comfort and door to door service, you call Maxi Taxis or Access Cabs (depending on your state). So long as you are willing to wait until such taxi becomes available as the operator makes clear that they cannot and will not gaurantee pick up times. When they finally arrive, you know they have made it because they are smelly mini buses with stains and tears from god knows what, normally driven by a grumbling scrooge like characters who will happily point out that if you are in a motorized wheelchair they are doing you a favor by picking you up because motorized wheelchair do not denote a handicap, they are a luxury… Really?  Otherwise you get the arrogant, bored young guy who’d rather be anyplace else and we know that because he spends the entire ride complaining to his mate on the cell about how much he hates his job. Feeling welcome yet? If that wasn’t uncomfortable enough, how about the fact that the last time I checked it was illegal and against every taxi code in the country to take calls while driving no matter what the language. How about Price Gouging? They turn the metre on the moment they pull up, take their dear sweet time loading you and strapping you in (at least they do that in a car) while giving you their life story. As an example of just how expensive your ride can be,  in the town of Nambour, Queensland where you can spit from one side to the other, its on average 10 dollars on the metre before even leaving your driveway. Just one more taxi reality… this past New Years Eve, in an attempt to be good and plan ahead, we rang Suncoast Cabs at 11am to ask when we should call them to arrange a pick up for approx 1am. We were immediately informed, by an amused operater “are you kidding, those busses seat 10. They are all booked by groups for New Years.” She continued to inform us that there would be no picking up of disabled folks in disabled taxis on New Years even though these cabs are government subsidized to give first preference at all times to disabled people. Impressed yet?

Really Australia we are citizens, we are your family, some of us ended up in chairs fighting for the bloody country yet we are bled dry by transport companies, belittled by airlines and barely tolerated by buses and trains. If you want to forget about us, say so. If you would rather we went quietly into the goodnight, screw you — we’re staying right here!!! i

So if you want to charge me the one good arm or leg I have left then BLOODY EARN IT WITH DECENT SERVICE AND RESPECT. Just because we have wheels under our asses doesnt mean we dont have brains and do our bit every day for this great country.

P.S. And to the Pentacostals of this world rushing up to me in my wheelchair, grabbing me, pulling me backwards to lay hands on me and pray for a cure, its not nice, it’s bloody assault. Get off the cross some else needs the wood.

Adelaide, Australia has Wonderful Hotels, Beaches, Restaurants and Shopping, but if Your in a Wheelchair, Your Often Left on the Sidewalk.

Dont get me wrong I grew up in Campbelltown, Adelaide,  worked in every club made popular on Hindley Street, owned and ran top restaurants and lived for the beaches. Back then I as 6ft 4 inches tall (not long) and had never considered the day I would have wheels permanently under my ass.

I have lived overseas since the mid-90’s and always extolled the virtues of wonderful Australia to any local that would listen.  Then in 2009 my American main squeeze and I came home for the first time in over a decade to beautiful skies, wonderful parks, great restaurants and even better friends. What we also came home to were  broken foot paths, non-exitent access ramps or if they were there they were used for table space or retail display.

Since Adelaide holds a special place in my heart and so do our friends there, we decided to come back to Adelaide.  This time it was September 2010. Thanks to a dear friend we stayed in Glenelg East. My partner was extra excited to be so close to the beach and looked forward to enjoying the flavors of Jetty Rd but alas it was our first disappointment.  Yes Glenelg is beautiful, has great restaurants, fun things to do, but for a wheelie like me access to most things was denied! Less than one in ten shops have a ramp and the rest are dangerously high (for wheelchairs at least).  A classic example was a coffee shop called Special Blendz.” who it seems thinks that their existing ramp is better used to house 3 extra tables.  The Strand, although we love their coffee, their cute waiters and really great food, we only ever got to enjoy the place from the outside seating because there is no disabled entry. When asking the staff how a disabled person is meant to get in the instruction were that we should go to the corner about 6 shops down, turn left, go down till we meet their alley, turn left, go along till we turn and see their “staff entrance” and delivery sign, ring bell, wait and enter past all manner of staff lockers, garbage bins and storage. How would your appetite survive that journey?

And now, last but not least, Glenelgs flagship pier side hotel The Stamford Grand whom while they have a lovely revolving door marble entrance to a stunning open aired bar and eatery, makes you roll two hundred metres round the back only to find the ramp blocked by…wait for it… large planters weighing hundreds of pounds. If you are lucky enough to get in via their covered disabled entrance, you then find yourself in a reception area with lifts to rooms, but if you wish to have a drink, something to eat, enjoy the piano bar and/or use the restrooms, your Access Has Been Denied! And somehow, when speaking to the staff, they seem ok with that.

Now we move across town to the wonderful Chifley on South Terrace. The hotel, when contacted by phone assured us that all amenities were fully wheelchair accessible. NOT!  If you wish to have a drink or several in  their hotel lobby bar, and then inquire the whereabouts of the disabled ladies room you are ushered to a staircase and joyfully assured that once you get up there they have a wonderful disabled toilet. I informed the lady that I was sitting in a wheelchair not a helicopter. She neither got the joke or the problem.  Given that I couldn’t use the public restroom, I resorted to returning to our room. My partner stayed in the lobby w/ our guests. Upon boarding the elevator, I attempted to press 4 suddently realizing that the height of the buttons were so high I fell out  of my chair. Upon reaching the room, without the benefit of my partner there to move furniture around, I realized that the room was so small in order to turn my chair around I had to crawl worm style onto the bed. lift it, turn it, and crawl back in and back into my chair. Mind you, we had the biggest room in house. Would we reccomend you stay there? Hell no! Use it to remake Faulty Towers ? Perfect! It occured to me it’s called The Chifley because last time thought was put into it he was prime minister.

Burnside Village (shopping mall) — the doyen of all things shi-shi and rich is under renewal and the only ramp in the entire building makes you push hundreds of metres up Portrush Rd into oncoming traffic then the same distance back down to anywhere worth visiting.

North Terrace, especially infront of The Royal Adelaide Hospital had footpaths so bad my chair dropped into a crack and snapped the wheel. The flagstone streets are pretty but in such bad repair that thankfully they are outside of a major hospital, just in case someone trips and cracks their head open.

So in closing Adelaide the churches are grand, the beaches white but alas the facilities broken.  I”ll be back for friends but as a wheelchair user ill bring my tool kit and join the RAA.

Mooloolaba — When a Town Gets it Right, They Really Get it Right!

This blog was started over extreme frustration due to the complete lack of concern or adherement to laws and rules regarding the disabled community. I intend, in that vane, to name and flame the offenders. But to simply dump on the bad guys  just makes me a whinging aussie.

Today I went to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast city of Mooloolaba and from the first footpath and access ramp to the Surf Life Saving Club, with not 1 but 2 disabled ramps into their building and a crew who helped me into a beach chair, pushed my not so little frame onto the sand  this town has got it right. Sure there are a few cracks and a couple of stores that have a step & no ramp overall the town has  gone out of its way for the disabled. Over a kilometre of wheelchair friendly linear park along the beach, several cement ramps actually down onto the sand, and cross walks every hundred metres that have no lip, no potholes and ramps at each end. These aren’t even ramps that take gymnastics to make your way up, they are at easy angles so THANK YOU  Mooloolaba!

This wheelie will be back again and again.  If we could only clone whomever is in charge of public works and send them australia wide. Perhaps then places I otherwise love like Jetty Rd, Glenelg and North Terrace, both in Adelaide or the likes of the Queen St Mall in Brisbane need not hang their heads in shame but thats for another post.

Today we applaud the good guys.

Broken Streets = Broken Chairs

To Whom This May Concern: If part of your job everyday is maintaining the very sidewalks you stand on, you might look at a crack or an old manwhole cover that doesn’t quite fit anymore and think “that little gap won’t hurt anyone.” Well we in the wheelchair community have news for you: that broken sidewalk that may only be a couple of inches wide is enough to destroy either the front of the back wheels on any wheelchair or even cause injury to its rider. In the past two months alone I have replaced the front casters on my chair twice because they have dropped into crack that to a normal walking person seem like nothing, but the cost to me in repairs to my chair since Oct 2010 has been in excess of $1000. Even worse, had it not been for my partners presence and the help of a dear friend, I would have stranded on a sidewalk unable to move in the middle of a busy city during peak hour.

Cure: Its simple, every day in every city around the world a crew is repairing a pot hole, replacing a stop sign, simply make it part of their job to observe their surrounding and make immediate reports to their superiors of any damage they see. BUT when taking note, please consider it front the point of view of someone riding the streets not walking them.