The course of your life can be forever changed in just a split second.
I learnt that the hard way, when I became a paraplegic at the age of 22 in a road crash.
For the past six years – after being t-boned by a ute while riding through a roundabout on my motorbike – I’ve needed a wheelchair to get around.
That change brought many challenges. But the biggest one, the one I’m still struggling with, is the social aspect of being wheelchair-bound. Before, my social life didn’t require much thought. I could go wherever I wanted and meet friends on a whim. But now it’s a completely different story.
I’d worked 22 years to become the woman that I was and to be happy with myself, to love myself, and gain all my life experiences. And that was just taken away from me in a second. And from that point, through rehabilitation and even after it, I’ve tried to rebuild that person – or some semblance of her. We all do. Sometimes we’re the same as we were before sustaining our injuries, sometimes not.
Many people who have a disability deal with being stared at, treated differently, discriminated against and feel a lack of inclusion for a variety of reasons.
The likelihood of these things happening to people with a disability when businesses or events consider a client’s rights to social inclusion, for example having a portable ramp available, is significantly reduced.
There is a wide variance in understanding the term “accessible”. Often when we ring and check if a venue or event is wheelchair accessible, people say yes, however on arrival it’s not the case. Having an understanding of a range of accessibility needs would make a huge difference.
Watch Heidi describe her experiences of life in a wheelchair (post continues after video):
As an Education Officer with Spinal Cord Injuries Australia, I work with newly injured clients to help them gain their independence back and empower themselves in their new life.
I recently had a difficult experience when we took one client to Darling Harbour’s Cool Yule Ice Skating Rink. After making repeated enquiries, via phone and email, we were told we could access the rink with our chairs. Unfortunately I wasn’t advised that we would have to pre-book our tickets in order for the rink to be accessible.
Our client’s whole family had driven four hours for the excursion to enjoy one of their father’s first days spent out of the confines of rehab.
When we got there, staff quickly realised they had no portable ramp and no way to get us on the ice. A stranger came to the rescue an hour later, after our client’s family had skated without him. A staff member eventually got us on the ice in between sessions, despite my saying we would like to skate with everybody else.
Onlookers began clapping, and whilst I cannot say why, or what they were thinking, I can only say it made us feel singled out. When we really just wanted to participate in an event with everyone else. I can say that it was definitely a learning experience to our recently injured client of future obstacles he would have to overcome.
We totally understand that we may have to do things a bit differently, that’s a given. But today, I’m asking you – I’m asking everyone – to ensure that businesses, establishments and pop-up events can be enjoyed by all. It’s easy to have a portable ramp. It’s easy to highlight accessibility points on a website. Even though we accept that doing things on a whim may not be achievable, having to make many phone calls, send many emails and then finding out accessibility is not actually an option, can be very disappointing.
But you know, the flip side is that there are venues and events out there who are doing such a brilliant job. (I’ve recently started a Facebook Page called Disability Access Wall of Recognition to celebrate those businesses, venues and events that really get it right.)
Remember, we’re humans. We’re the same as everyone else. We’re just sitting down.