Archive for the ‘disabled toilets’ Category

The queue at the ladies’ toilet at the cinema was long as usual, despite the fact that there were toilets on various levels.

I guess that’s why a few of the ladies- in-waiting guiltily ducked into the disabled toilet, but not without the usual furtive looks.

It’s a common scene. What is the etiquette? Should you not use the toilet, even when there is no person with a disability in sight and your legs are crossed and your face is going purple?

But how do we know there is no person with a disability in sight? Should we always assume that such a person is in a wheelchair, the ubiquitous and often erroneous symbol of disability?

Disability comes in many forms, not always overt. Someone who has difficulty walking or using their arms, perhaps due to a congenital disease or a stroke, may need a disabled toilet. Someone who has a colostomy and needs more space, privacy and time may also need one. Or someone like me, who has lymphoedema and often needs space to adjust surgical stockings.

But despite being on the alert for all types of disability, in all my years of avid cinema and theatre going, I’ve rarely seen any people with disabilities use these toilets. What does this suggest? That people with disabilities are not interested in the arts?

Of course not. It may simply suggest that the times that I went to the cinema or theatre did not coincide with the times that they attended. It may also suggest that people with disabilities may not be able to afford a ticket to the cinema or theatre, or may not be able to afford it as often as others.

In all the talk about access and disability, an important factor is often omitted – economic access. Having a disability is expensive. At the same time, people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed or receiving government benefits – making them amongst the most marginalised and poor in our community.

In the light of this, a ticket to the cinema may be a luxury: a ticket to the theatre, may be an impossibility, especially if you have to take a carer along.

I realise that things have improved greatly since the days when helping people with disabilities meant installing a ramp. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 now protects against discrimination in many parts of public life, such as employment, education and access to premises.

But there is no protection against poverty, especially when people with disabilities must rely on an out-dated, complex and crisis-driven welfare system.

That’s why we need a National Disability Insurance Scheme. The scheme was first proposed at the Rudd 2020 summit and is now being considered as part of the Government’s National Disability Strategy, a 10- year national plan to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

The Productivity Commission began a public inquiry into the scheme in February and its final report is due by July 31 next year.

The proposal is for a scheme for all Australians who acquire a disability before age 65, funded by all taxpayers through general revenue or through an extension of the Medicare Levy.

For all those who are now hearing the nagging voice of Tony Abbott saying “big new tax”, think again. Disability is not something that affects some invisible minority.

Around 1.5 million Australians have a profound or serious disability, and more than 2.5 million people are caring for them.

Within the next 40 years as our population ages, the number of people with severe and profound disabilities is expected to rise to 2.9 million. This is a big new problem and yes it will require a big new tax if we are to avoid a crisis.

But there will also be many benefits. As Yooralla says, not only would the scheme provide the funds to meet the needs of all people with disabilities and their families, it would also enable them to “make choices, be in control and plan their lives with confidence, just like everyone else”.

That means going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon, just like everyone else.

So next time you queue for the loo, instead of sitting down, stand up for people with disabilities by signing the National Disability Insurance Scheme petition being run Yooralla, Disability Services Australia and the Spastic Centre. http://www.ndis.org.au/takeaction/signthepetition.html.

More than ever, people with disabilities need your support and advocacy to ensure that this vital law reform succeeds.

An edited version of this story was published in The Age on November 9. To read this version and see the comments go to http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/guilty-of-using-the-disabled-loo-make-your-amends-here-20101108-17kg2.html

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