Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week Accessibility = Opportunity - Forward Ability Support

Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week Accessibility = Opportunity

Accessibility equals opportunity was the theme for this year’s Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week in September. Accessibility comes in many forms and as editor, Martin Heng says it’s often “so much more than just ramps and toilets.”

While we can celebrate the changes taking place, we also recognise that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to achieve a completely accessible society.

There are:

  • Opportunities to improve access to employment for people living with a disability
  • Opportunities to improve accessible transport and independent travel
  • Opportunities to understand the lives of people with lived experience

In the recent Jobs + Skills Summit hosted by the Australian Government, Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott shared “that about 54 per cent of the nearly 4.5 million people living with disability in Australia were in the workforce – a participation rate that has not changed in years.” Providing the right access to employment allows for greater opportunity for growth and inclusivity in Australian society. It is up to the changemakers to put these laws into action and get Australia moving forward. Alcott continued, saying “it was also important for government and businesses to create workplaces that were safe from unconscious bias and discrimination, not just by making spaces accessible, but also by educating people within the workforce.”

When it comes to navigating the public transport space, Martin knows the ins and outs of accessible travel. “Until my accident, I’d cycled the 20 kms to work every day. At first, I was given a very gentle introduction, with the TAC paying for a maxicab to and from work daily during my “return-to-work” period. Still, I soon had to learn how to navigate the public transport network in the city. According to the Guardian, “Fully accessible public transport is federally legislated under the Disability Discrimination Act. In 2002, standards came into effect requiring public transport in all states and territories to be fully accessible by the end of 2022. However, with less than six months to go, no state or territory is set to meet the deadline – and at the current pace of upgrades, some will not make 2032 either.” 

“Two train experiences last week show that accessibility goes beyond the physical realm. One day, I was going full speed up an open platform to try to catch the train and was barely 3m from the front, looking the driver in the eye through the mirror as he pulled away. The following day, I was at least 20m from the front of the train when it was due to depart, dodging commuters when the driver popped her head out of the carriage and motioned me to come forward. At the next stop, the crowd from the AFL semi-final at the MCG packed the train to bursting. Ordinarily, I’d say, “Excuse me, please. Excuse me please,” until people noticed and tried to make way. On this occasion, the driver opened the door to the carriage and informed the passengers that I was getting off at the next stop and to make room. How much easier the situation was, and how less awkward I felt just because the driver showed some empathy!”

At one time or another, everyone has the opportunity to assist someone else with access needs – be observant and empathetic, and you, too, can make someone’s day.

As an advocate of the SCI community, we at Forward Ability Support, have the opportunity to provide a platform for those with lived experience to share their stories and experiences with society. While many points of our agenda speak to creating an equal and inclusive society for all Australians, we are also committed to breaking down the barriers between people living with a disability and the wider community by increasing awareness and understanding through educating those without a disability. We’ve been sharing the stories of people with lived experience, their achievements and everyday lives in our previous articles about Dentist, Dr Jeremy Lung and Forward Ambassador, Joel Sardi. We’d love to share and hear more stories of people with lived experience to our wider audience and make your voices heard.

If you would like to share your lived experience story please send us an email on editor@fas.org.au.