Circles in a Square – A New Age Guide to Wheelchair Safety?

lots of magic squares no straps or safety and those seats drop down when the train shakes and damage your chair

The last time this rider laughed at magic markers on the floor was the famous opening scene of Blues Brothers where Jake isn’t allowed past the line on his discharge from prison. I can laugh at that because no one really believe that lines drawn on the ground have any power. Or do they?

In previous blog entrys, I praised the efforts of Queensland Bus and Rail when it came to the handling of the disabled but alas I spoke too soon. See I got all excited when I arrived at a station and there were brand new, state of the art, clean smelling disabled access elevators and every bus or train had a version of a ramp, whether a man comes out and greets you or it comes out from the body of a kneeling bus. I found that amazing and wrote a wonderful review, but then I moved out to a country town and a station in the middle of no where on the Sunshine Coast. It was then I started to notice their fascination with magical squares and circles. You see, its very reminiscent of George Carlin’s iconic routine A Place to Keep Your Stuff. You, an unsuspecting wheelchair user rolls innocently onto a platform to await your train. Then a booming voice screams out “you must be on the blue square. We put it there for a reason.” After realizing its not God speaking to me, but simply a rail employee, I searched frantically to find that YES, there was a blue square with a stick figure in a wheelchair painted in the middle. Quickly rushing over in the my chair to occupy it, still not sure if it was God or the station master and therefore not wanting to upset either, I sheepishly inquire “what is the significance of the square.” In a very stern voice it was explained to me that is where I was expected to board the train.

Then the train arrives and I, like a good girl, was still sitting on the square and hear a whistle and a distant “hey you” (again not God). I turn to see a person holding up a folded up ramp yelling “what are you doing up  there mate, you gotta board down this end.” I point to the square and point to the station master saying “I was told not to move.” The conductor replied “if your gettin on this train you better get you ass here.” Sheepishly but quickly I roll to the other end of the train platform (still not sure if wasn’t God and expecting a lightening bolt any second for having dared to leave the square) and inquire of him why I had to leave the square and come to him. He replied “cause this is the special carriage where we load disabled people. ” So with much anticipation of all matter of devices for my safety and comfort, I board the train. Following the conductors stern direction to the disabled section of the carriage. How could I miss it for on the floor I find another painted square with another wheelchair stick figure drawn on it. Thank god I was safetly back in the land of colored squares. Looking around for my devices, the square was it. A handle and any other safety device had long been removed, but hey I had my colored square. So I must be safe.

All jokes aside, really Queensland Bus and Rail, colored circles, squares, blue, yellow, stick figures by the dozen are what you consider safety and security for wheelchair passengers. What inspired this system, Lord of the Rings? If your going to make us jump through hoops getting on and off the train, at least have something worthwhile at the end for our trouble. The NYC bus system, for example, doesn’t allow any wheelchair on any form of public transit unless the user agrees to have their wheels strapped to the floor and wear an over the shoulder belt which are all tightened to minimize chair movement.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble but pretty colors and perfect squares do not protect me or my chair. And to add insult to possible injury, when one of your magic squares fails, like it did today, almost causing this writer to tip out of her chair, all your highly trained staff did was look at me in the mirror, laugh and keep going.

In closing it is the opinion of this writer that next time Queensland Bus and Rail or any other service tries to justify a raise in fare by saying they are increasing the quality of their service, they at least need to guarantee that the service they are providing is at minimum base level. We the wheelchair bound public pay our fare and we get nothing but a painted square on the ground. Perhaps when designing wheelchair safety, I suggest you stop using Dr. Seuss an inspiration!

What if There Was Always Access — You Just Never Used It?

Unless this is your first time reading this blog, and if it is WELCOME, you realize by now that the name Disabled Access Denied is the writers way at screaming at those who would deny the rights of the wheelchair bound, without involving those in uniform and unwanted legal trouble. A way to yell at those who think a ramp is dumpster storage, a disabled toilet is an extra stock room and let the world know who the offenders are. As the holiday of Australia Day, dawns on the land down under, it has occured to this writer, who has spent the last 13 years celebrating the 4 th of July that the most important access of all for the disabled and/or infirmed is always there but rarely used.

When was the last time you drove to the 4th of July picnic or Australia Day celebration that you stopped to wish you neighbor well because he/she is housebound thanks to a disability or picked up that cousin whose been in a chair since birth, so that they too can celebrate the holiday the way everyone else takes for granted?

Sometimes, whether its because of the fear of our own mortality or perhaps our newly disabled friend is still raging against the world, “Why me,” we stay away. We assume someoen is looking after them. Its not until we read headlines like “Katrina’s Waters Receed & Man Found Dead in Wheelchair” that we reflect on what we could have done. Its not until we see our neighbor sitting alone on his porch that we wonder why he’s not having fun.. Do you walk away?

A famous person said, a civilization is judged not by the shining towers they build but how they care for the least among them so next time before you assume that the access is denied, Mr. Bell invented a wonderful device, and by dialing just a few short numbers access to the disabled may never be denied.

Queensland Ambulance Services Policy “We’ll Take the Disabled But Not Their Wheelchairs?”

Driving an ambulance most days is a thankless task. From having to lift the morbidly obese to dealng with drunks throwing up on you, it’s just not fun.

99% of ambulance workers are unsung heros who do it because they care, but the service they work for in the Australian state of Queensland has a lot to answer for. When the average ambulance pick up is admitted to a hospital ward, once stabilized they are allowed to walk around with no orderly required because mother nature did a great job, you come with all the equipment needed to do it yourself.

Every now and then, whether mother nature makes a mistake or by some unexpected event, the right of birth to stand up and walk is taken away. For those of us fortunate enough to recover to a certain level they put wheels under our asses and we need those wheels 24/7 to maintain as normal a standard of life as possible.

Recently, this writer, while enjoying a leisurely Sunday found herself gripping her chest and her partner calling emergency.  The ambulance arrived and it was decided I need transportation, but when leaving we were told “leave the chair, bringing it is against state rules.” Really? Do you then tell accident victims “choose a end, we have to amputate the other?”

So if, as was the case, 24 hours later I am discharged — do I swim home? Crawl? Or does my main squeeze carry me (other than emotionally)? What the hell!

A lie was told that there would be a chair provided for me at the hospital during my entire stay. No, there would not be. Chairs are strictly for transportation in the control of a orderly from one department to another. If I want to use the toilet, are orderlies required to move me 6 feet from my bed when I’m totally capable of doing it myself? Really Queensland, after devastating floods surely you can find more important ways to spend your ever dwindling health budget.

Queensland, this is the worst kind of bigotry. Disability, when it comes, doesn’t care your race, religion or color so when you seperate us from the one thing that helped us get back some level of dignity you show you don’t give a damn. If chairs don’t fit in ambulances, stop wasting money and redesign your damn vehicles because WE CANT REDESIGN OUR BODIES.

It’s love me — love my chair.

God Forbid Practicality Beats out Bureaucracy!

Since cool kids first chopped Harley’s after WWII or turned grandpas Model T into a street rod there has been a world wide industry in after market customization. Since cable tv invented the reality show we have made these people icons. Orange County Choppers, Jesse James at West Coast Choppers, just to name 2 in the motorcycle world, their  motto is “if it doesnt make you go faster or stop quicker its not necessary.”

Practical people have long been jacking up 4×4’s for off road or as in my old neighbourhood there was always some engine master in a back yard that could turn any family car into a sub 10-second monster, all wonderful until you do it to a wheelchair.

The gentleman in this story: http://www.news.com.au/technology/authority-says-tank-style-wheelchair-not-for-the-road/story-e6frfro0-1225991855572 from England, like many Americans on the East Coast has to suffer many months of snow and ice making life unbearable even for the most able bodied. As a person who spent the last 5 years suffering New York winters in a wheelchair, I can tell you unless you bravely go where the guy in the story went, life ends for the wheelchair bound in snow communities until the first thaw.

What is it England? Someone rocked the boat and said enough is enough? Did he demand as normal life as his neighbour?. If someone wants to shop or god forbid earn a living during winter but happens to be in a wheelchair is their a problem?, was that too much for you to wrap your mind around. Necessity being the mother of invention, this guy replaced, as I can attest to a useless mobility scooter set of wheels with practical caterpillar tracts but the council in his area called it a tank. The weird thing is they don’t mind if you own a tank, just dont dare take the tracts off one and put them on a disabled vehicle. Hey mr mayor  its not like he mounted machine guns on the side.

Well I say this is a clear case of DISABLED ACCESS DENIED ! This world runs on legal precedent and so I’m afraid the goverment in his area may have a problem. See if you refuse his snow scooter  for having after market changes or being custom built you must refuse the next Harley or enthusiast that replaces their aging jag motor with 350 chev for the same reasons you refused him. The list go’s on. If we live in a world where there are laws for the able bodied and less rights for the disabled then we may as well tear up the American Constitution,  the civil rights bill,the Australian laws and anything written since the Magna Carta. 

If you want us to stay out of sight locked in our homes have the chutzpah to say so, but dont hide behind draconian vehicle laws.  We pay taxes, we own homes, we breathe the same air and we demand the same rights. So to the man in England, I say keep fighting. Just one question, can you build me one?   

One Person is Noise, Thousands is Power!

Wow who would have thought my small blog that allowed me to scream at the universe, “Why me ? Why wheels? And why doesnt the world seem to care about us?” would turn into a voice for a community being read by 400 people on four continents in just 2 days.

To those hundreds Thank You!  You have validated my belief that if in my everyday normal life I have to put up with dozens of people and situations that scream ” THE DISABLED AREN’T THE TOP OF OUR LIST,” then surely this aggravation is not just mine. It must be happening all over the world to tens of thousands of disabled and wheelchair bound people every day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not  trying to take us from disabled to more important than everyone else. I’m simply saying that when an entire sidewalk and the disabled access to all the government buildings in an area have been in dangerous disrepair yet the council votes to finance a fireworks show and puts off public works for anther year you would have to be blind not to notice where their priorities lie.

For this blog to be a real resource and voice for our community, it can’t just be me. We need YOUR voice. Whether you are a fellow disabled person or someone who loves one and care, we want to hear from you. So this is how it works, I vent  and if you agree or disagree you can reply, even more importantly tell me who the good and the bad are, take pics and name names. You can be anonymous and I’ll  put them on my shame file.

I understand some of you live in places where you may be one of the few or even the only wheelchair or disabled person in your community and who needs life any tougher. Right?  So post anonymously if you want. If you want to send pics along with your story just reply to a post and let me know and I’ll get in touch privately. So let me tell your story and take the fall out. I look at it this way, if the person is already a thoughtless S.O.B who thinks disabled ramps are for dumpster storage and our toilets are for stock overflow, and then he thinks “hell why don’t I go on a blog and abuse the disabled,” then we as a community have already won for he shows himself to be the asshole we know he is.

So if your in Canada, the US or out in Yorkshire and in the outback of Australia, where ever you are you matter! I matter! It’s time the damn able bodied  community stop treating us as imbeciles and realized that there is something more between our shoulders than a place to pat and mew “there there you poor disabled thing.”

Lets get the conversation going!

You Say Think Outside The Box, These Guys Build a New Box!

To all my regular readers let me start by first apologising for yet another commentary on my recent experience during the Queensland floods.

Moving forward and putting the experiences of the recent floods behind us is important but it would be unfair if I did not hand out as much kudos to the saviours of the day as I did, pie in the face, to the ever present band of inepts.

Whether you are as I, in a wheelchair, or live with any of a hundred maladies that require outside help for day to day living there are certain phrases you dread hearing. One of the most unfortunate, yet grossly overused one is “sorry you fall through the cracks,” which is second only to “you don’t fit our funding parameters” or my all time favorite “if we did that for you, we’d have to do it for everyone.” Yet as previously posted this writer contacted all the appropriate agencies for help and was denied time and time again. 

Finally after the help of an amazing manageress at Queensland Department of Disabled Services, it was suggested I call S.C.I.L.S. at Nambour. They were, she said, a group who existed to help train and provide services that allowed the permanently disabled to have the selfworth of living independantly. She wasn’t sure I met their requirement (so whats new) as they mainly deal with intellectually disabled but in the midst of a flood, excuse the pun, it was any port in a storm.

I wasn’t holding out much hope, but after 48 hours of hell and being told to basically go to hell by everyone else, this group reacted with empathy, compassion, professionalism and just plain great aussie spirit. I called and the general manager Paul Martin answered his own phone. When I explained that I knew they dealt with mainly intellectually disabled but that I was physically he replied “in the middle of a flood what kind of person would I be to worry about mission statements over human safety.” He asked where we live and told me someone would be over in 5 minutes. Trevor and Chris showed up with a disabled access elevator equipped bus ready to evacuate 2 people, 2 wheelchairs and their belongings. Although we didn’t immediate evaculation, although it wasn’t far off, we did need help and a plan. It was quickly decided that because of their extremely busy day and the ever growing unreliability of mobile phone service that day, that if the rains kept up the same level they would be back in 2 hours and get us out. After checking out the water levels and what was needed to try and keep us safe, Chris the slightly senior of the 2 said ” someone forgot drainage when they built this place. ”  I agreed and they left  only to have Chris return 1 hour later. With the water 1 inch from our door he returned with a shovel and said “thought I’d dig that drainage for you,” and in monsooning rain he dug a 12 inch deep, almost as wide, 30 foot long drainage ditch from the main point where the waters collected all the way out to the street. He worked for over an hour and then just smiled and left as the water drained like suds from a unplugged bath. Amazing!

Yes, in the following day the water reached the same level many times but without the remarkable efforts of Chris, Trevor and everyone else at S.C.I.L.S. Nambour this post may have been posted by me from a library computer with my wheelchairs and everything I own destroyed.

So to everyone at S.C.I.LS.  from my, beautiful spouse and I (and i suspect from many dozens other you helped unselfishly) Thank You. Another huge thanks goes out to someone else S.C.I.L.S put us in touch with … Jim Nugent for coming out here and restoring our faith in faith.

To all others, next time thinking outside the box is too difficult or someone is about to fall through your ever widening cracks do what S.C.I.L.S. would do, build a different shaped box and get your own Chris to seflessly fill the damn cracks so noone is left behind. (www.scils.com.au)

Foot note: Since the floodwaters receeded S.C.I.L.S. hasn’t abandoned us. They have sent social workers and hooked us up with all forms of help. Thanks to them, disabled ramps will be installed in my yard and tomorrow a crew comes to help clean up the moonscape that is my flood damaged yard.

They Cared About Names, We Care About Service!

For the past 2 weeks, since the inception of this blog, I have both complained and applauded (unfortunately more of the first has been necessary) on the subject of disabled rights that effect our quality of life.

The responses have been mixed. I have had a ‘well said” from Canberra , a “makes me sad to live in Adelaide” from someone else and a good deal of support from people that believe in the importance of this blog. Yet, from the people who can make address the issues I highlight and can make change (and I know thanks to the wonderful world of blog stats) that they are reading, I’ve gotten pure silence. That is until I wrote the piece, “Wheelchairs Have Wheels not Wings or Floaties.” In that blog entry, I pointed out the total collapse of the emergency system in Nambour during the floods. When it came to just one person, myself, ringing asking for help because they were flooded in and in a wheelchair, the entry documented how I was passed from “Larry” to “Curly” to “Moe,” but all 3 were answering phones in places recieving tax payer dollars to give the very aid I was requesting or in the very least know of it’s existence and direct me to it.

So I forwarded the piece to a local paper whose reporter asked in her byline in a online story, “if people have pics or stories” they would love to get them. After sending a brief description of the situation along with the blog entry, I was immediately contacted by a reporter who passed me to a 2nd, who then informed me of their online website that they would be interested in writing a piece for about my experience. Sounds easy? Then the police wanted names, times and numbers I called (do you remember all those details in a time of emergency), as did SES and the hospital and a whole cast of characters lined up to find out who was this nay sayer casting flooded waters on their great efforts.

To that cast of characters, I say, you have the vital details, spend the time fixing it rather than spinning it. I’m not suing, I’m not looking for a payday, I’m looking for a world where if the badge on the uniform says fixer of all things broken then he better know his way around a toolbox better than he does a press conference.