Today is international day of people with a disability and I’d like to share a story that was shared with me when I first started working at Scope.
A few years ago, a colleague of Scope was travelling by train to a business meeting in the city. He planned to catch the train to Flinders Street Station, then cross the concourse to the taxi rank and use a taxi to complete his trip. He was like any other successful businessman that you would see in the city, except he uses a powered wheelchair and a picture board to communicate. While crossing the concourse his wheelchair broke down. With the taxi rank in plain view, to his horror he realised that he had no way of reaching it alone. He tried to attract the attention of his fellow commuters. Everyone just walked past. It took 50 minutes for the first person to stop.
The well-meaning lady who stopped didn’t take the time to listen to him and, assuming he was a beggar, put money on his wheelchair tray. Humiliated, he was now in a worse situation than before. With the cab rank he so desperately needed to reach in his line of sight, people continued to just put money on his wheelchair tray. This went on for three hours. Finally a group of students approached him. They spent no more than two minutes asking him questions to understand what he needed. This extra two minutes saved him waiting for hours more on the concourse. He was assisted by the students to reach the taxi rank feeling degraded, stressed, dehydrated and exhausted.
As appalling as his experience is, he is not alone. Australians with a disability are living these experiences every day. Each of us needs to recognise that this is a problem in our society, and that it is unacceptable. Australia requires a transformational change for people with a disability to be truly welcomed and accepted.
Transformation of community attitudes requires acknowledgement that there is a problem and a determination to drive change that improves Australia as a society. People with a disability and their families have demonstrated what it takes to drive a paradigm shift in social policy.
The change starts with you; it starts with all of us. We need to see the person not the disability.