Once you become dependent on a wheelchair you quickly come to the realisation of how important accessibility is in every aspect of daily life. Ethically and morally speaking everything should be equally accessible to everyone; sadly this is not the case.
Accessibility in this context refers to the design of various devices, products, and environments to support people who experience physical and psychological disabilities.
Legislation for the Nation
Legislation and bureaucracy are frequently portrayed as stifling and over the top, but as a wheelchair user you will frequently realise how important legislation is to ensure your mobility. There is a movement called the disability rights movement which fights for equal rights for everyone using paying to use the facilities of an organisation. Measures to fulfil the requirements of this movement primarily focus on wheelchair accessibility, but usually extend to things such as braille signage and pedestrian crossings usable by blind people.
The actual legislation in place varies across different countries.
- In the US the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 enforces that new constructions should be fully accessible to wheelchairs and existing buildings should be made accessible as best as possible.
- In the UK the Equality Act 2010 brings together four older acts into one simplified broader act covering a broad array of discriminatory factors, such as age, sex, race and disability. The UK first introduced a specific act for disability in 1995 (Disability Discrimination Act).
- Australia introduced their Disability Discrimination Act in 1992.
Broadly speaking the importance of accessibility for people in wheelchairs, in particular, gained prominence in the early 1990s. As such it is a relatively recent revelation and you may come across many buildings that are not very well suited to wheelchairs.
Most vehicles will have been upgraded or replaced since the early 1990s and will be able to transport wheelchairs. Automobiles can be readily adapted to suit a variety of physical disabilities. One of the most common adaptions is a ramp to allow a wheelchair to safely board the vehicle. Buses can lower themselves at bus stops to allow wheelchairs to board and once again will utilise a ramp. Some older buses have stairs in the entrance and there has been some controversy in recent years over the replacement of these older vehicles.
In recent years many urban areas have been extensively adapted to accommodate wheelchair users. Modifications include, but are not limited to:
- Cut curb, this allows a wheelchair to go from the height of the pavement to the road height easily. It is essentially a ramp built into the pavement.
- Disabled permit holder priority parking spaces. These allow people with permits to park in close proximity to places such as shopping centres, train stations, airports and towns.
- Lowering of high street shop doorways to allow easy access to shops without the need for ra ramp.
These features have become standard in many wealthy cities and towns. Another thing that you will find is that the general public and various staff members are usually very supportive. Most people are naturally very willing to help when they see people struggling with a wheelchair. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
Room for Improvement
As the legislation was only introduced relatively recently there is still room for improvement. As a wheelchair you will come across certain shops and facilities that are difficult for you to use. But do not lose faith; there are more often than not people around willing to help. Utilise the help provided by various people and institutions and never be afraid to venture outdoors as a result of your wheelchair.