Often the biggest challenges facing people with disability are environmental and social barriers.
People living with impairment face physical and social barriers every day—challenges that people without disability are often completely unaware of.
Disability support worker Lauren Walker says that while improvements in awareness and services have been made, there is still a long way to go.
“The disability sector is still coming out of that institutionalised framework,” she says. “Community access and things like that are all very new still. There is change happening but it’s very gradual.”
Walker works with people with high needs disabilities and says accessibility in public places, including availability of lifts, ramps and disabled parking, is still “miles off” what it should be.
“But then there’s also just general knowledge about communicating with someone with a disability,” she says. “Even in the health sector—a lot of nurses have never dealt with disability before and don’t know how to communicate with someone who has a speech impediment.”
She suggests Makaton sign language be taught in schools to diversify communication capabilities, and says more integration and education is needed to build a truly inclusive society.
“It’s not as common as it should be—community access for people with disabilities—and sometimes people just don’t know how to act,” she says. “A woman once told me that it was nice that we ‘let them out’. Stuff like that happens a lot.
“Some of the people I work with have had money taken out of the bags on the back of their wheelchairs, or when driving on the path in a motorised wheelchair people walking behind say ‘Can you go any slower?’
“I just think integration and general knowledge of disability could be improved — and people with disabilities need to get out there, and do your thing. You wouldn’t want to go outside if people looked at you funny and fiddled with your bag on the back of your wheelchair, but just doing it and getting out and about really helps.”
Kimberley Nean agrees that education is key to changing people’s attitudes.
“If we could get that awareness and knowledge out there then maybe people would be a bit more comfortable,” she says.
She has Usher syndrome, a form of pigmentosa that causes sensory loss including night blindness, tunnel vision, hearing loss, bad balance and no sense of smell.
“I often feel a bit excluded in public areas because people seem to be too scared to part with a ‘Hey, how are you going?’” she says. “I come across some wonderful people who know exactly how to be inclusive; for instance, they talk to me, not my dog.
“Everybody wants to talk about my dog and while I’m happy to do that, a change in topic is nice!”
She adds that better community awareness would also help to make physical environments more inclusive.
“That’s just trying to get people to be aware of their surroundings,” she says. “The council might suddenly do roadworks without notifying us, or somebody doesn’t realise that there’s a vision-impaired person who regularly uses a route and might suddenly put construction material on a footpath, or the neighbours move in and they put things in different places, so that’s and education thing—trying to get people to be aware of their surroundings.
“In general in society we’re trying to get people off their phones, talking to people again and getting to know their neighbours—if people look up from their phones every now and again and gain an awareness of what’s around them, they might realise that something’s going on.”
Are you a Brisbane resident living with a disability? What sort of challenges do you face in your day-to-day life? Share your stories in the comments below!