I recently had an experience I was glad to have and would prefer not to have again. As an initiative of the Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association, I spent a day in a wheelchair – along with about 20 other CEOs and senior executives.
It was confronting, frightening, sobering, informative and worthwhile. And exhausting.
My colleagues and I each had to raise $5000 to be given a wheelchair for a day, so in total about $100,000 was raised for a worthy organisation.
But it was less about the money and more about the experiences.
And we had them. (And I stress, my naïve experiences are incomparable to the daily reality for many). I nearly missed elevators when the doors closed before I could wheel through (I had to cheat by sticking out a leg to stop the door).
It was frustrating, and slow, having to catch a lift to a different floor every time I wanted to go to the toilet – my floor has no disabled toilets.
I needed a push to get up a slight slope to a coffee shop. I am a pretty big guy, but I just didn’t have the strength. That really surprised me – my friends in wheelchairs make it look so easy.
Next time you walk around our city, any city, look down.
The footpaths that able-bodied citizens use to easily navigate a city are warzones for those with mobility or vision challenges.
Footpaths (necessarily) have a camber, which acts like a black hole dragging you relentlessly towards the road. (Note: roads also, necessarily, have a camber which drags you toward the gutter).
Footpaths are where the city’s utilities are buried, so there are access holes, grates, subsidence where maintenance works have been done. Just the slightest lift of a paver can be a challenge.
There is no blame here. This is simply an observation about cities across the globe.
I had a short, temporary experience. My esteem and admiration for those who don’t have a choice has skyrocketed.
Why, as a modern, wealthy society, can’t we make it as easy as possible for all members of our community to move about?
Last year, the Committee for Brisbane published a suite of potential legacies from hosting the 2032 Games.
One of the ideas was an “Access All Areas” universal-access mobility Vision for SEQ.
We believe governments and communities should adopt a first-principles approach that ensures any new or refurbished development or infrastructure project must design for those members of our community with visual, mobility and/or mental challenges so they can enjoy the same accessibility rights as the rest of us.
What about this for a 2032 legacy: visitors to the Olympic and Paralympic Games return home raving about Brisbane as the world’s most accessible city?
Barton Green is CEO of business advocacy group Committee for Brisbane