For people without a disability, it may be hard to fully grasp the importance of disabled access in the community or, how the lack of accessibility in various areas can gravely impact the lives of people with disability.
This can include such common things as; getting on and off public transport, maintaining a job, visiting public places, like gardens and parks and finding an accessible home to live in.
It can also include however small things like, mapping apps, that lack details on ramps, and dropped kerbs, lift doors that close quickly, pulling the door behind you when you’re in a wheelchair, noisy public venues that people with autism are sensitive too or even going to the movies with a hearing disability.
Things people without disability can often take for granted.
Hence why, disabled access is such an important aspect of designing and constructing buildings, transportation systems, and public spaces that enable people with disabilities to have equal access and participate in society.
But, how is Melbourne treading in this area for wheelchair users?
Whilst Melbourne is making significant strides towards becoming a more disabled access community for people with disabilities I can’t but help focus on the areas we can still improve on. I mean the more accessible we become the more people with disabilities get the same opportunity to live a normal life like everybody else.
One area where Melbourne could improve accessibility for wheelchair users is pedestrian crossings. While many crossings have been retrofitted with tactile indicators and audible signals, there are still some crossings that lack these features. Additionally, some crossings may not provide enough time for wheelchair users to cross safely, particularly those who require more time due to mobility issues. For example, I’ve encountered several crossings in the CBD where the green pedestrian signal is only active for a few seconds, making it challenging to cross the road safely in a wheelchair.
While Melbourne has made significant progress in improving disabled access on public transport, there are still some areas where further improvements could be made. For example, some tram stops do not have level boarding, making it difficult for wheelchair users to board the tram independently. Additionally, while many trains have designated wheelchair spaces, these spaces are often not clearly marked, and other passengers may occupy them without realising they are designated for wheelchair users.
Another area where Melbourne could improve disabled access for wheelchair users is in the availability of accessible housing. While there are some accessible housing options available in Melbourne, they are often expensive and in high demand. This can make it difficult for wheelchair users to find suitable accommodation that meets their needs. For example, I have friends who have had to modify their own homes at great expense to make them accessible, as there were no suitable options available on the rental market.
Finally, while Melbourne has made progress in creating an inclusive and accessible community, there may be further opportunities for engagement with wheelchair users. This could include creating more opportunities for wheelchair users to provide feedback on accessibility improvements or involving wheelchair users in community decision-making processes.
Wheelchair users, like everyone else, should have the opportunity to participate in the workforce and pursue their career goals. Unfortunately, there are still barriers that can make it difficult for wheelchair users to access employment opportunities in Melbourne. For example, some employers may not have accessible workplaces or may not be familiar with the accommodations that can be made to enable wheelchair users to work effectively. There may also be a lack of training and support programs for wheelchair users who are seeking employment.
Disabled access to information is essential for full participation in society, but many websites, apps, and other digital platforms are not fully accessible to wheelchair users and people with visual impairments. This can make it difficult to access important information, services, and resources. For example, some websites may not be compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers or may not provide captions or transcripts for video content. This can make it challenging for wheelchair users to stay informed and engaged in their communities.
Melbourne has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), which sets out a framework for promoting and protecting the rights of people with disabilities, and which includes most, if not all, the points covered above. Melbourne has an obligation to ensure that wheelchair users have equal access to the community and there is still work to be done in these areas.
Not to mention that Melbourne can in fact benefit greatly from becoming more accessible for people with disabilities, including wheelchair users. How, you may ask? Through…
Increased Economic Benefits:
Improved disabled access can help Melbourne tap into the spending power of people with disabilities, which is estimated to be around $22 billion per year in Australia. By making the city more accessible, Melbourne can attract more visitors with disabilities, who may stay longer and spend more money. Additionally, by creating a more inclusive workforce, Melbourne can also benefit from the skills and talents of people with disabilities, who may bring unique perspectives and experiences to the workplace.
Improved Social Equity:
Disabled access is a matter of social equity, and by making Melbourne more accessible, the city can help to reduce the social and economic disadvantages experienced by people with disabilities. This can lead to a more equal and just society, where everyone has the opportunity to participate fully and equally.
Increased Tourist Attraction:
Melbourne is a popular tourist destination, and by improving accessibility, the city can attract even more visitors. This is particularly important as the population of people with disabilities is increasing, and they are seeking destinations that are accessible and welcoming. By making Melbourne more accessible, the city can tap into this growing market and benefit from increased tourism.
Improved Quality of Life for Residents:
Finally, improved accessibility can lead to a better quality of life for all residents of Melbourne. By making the city more accessible, wheelchair users and other people with disabilities can access public spaces, services, and opportunities that may have previously been inaccessible. This can lead to improved physical and mental health, increased social participation, and a greater sense of belonging and inclusion.
Which creates a win-win situation right?
Meaning, improving accessibility in Melbourne is not just the right thing to do, but it also has a range of benefits for the city, its residents, and its visitors.
By prioritising accessibility and working to remove barriers that prevent wheelchair users and other people with disabilities from participating fully in society, Melbourne can create a more inclusive and equitable community for all.
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