How I see it… A timely reminder about the need for social change

Today we were reminded how much knowledge and consideration of accessibility is needed in society. Ironically after an Access Matters Aotearoa event. The below description highlights the need for change in the Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill that is at the select committee as we speak.

Today, I attended a work-related event in the city. Again it is a cold and rainy Friday night at dusk with a third weekend in a row of red weather warnings after flooding across the North Island and raining consistently.

My Guide Dog Sienna and I had a ride from the venue to the Civic, where our bus goes from. The timetable showed two cancelled buses after the current one, so we must catch that particular bus. As our bus pulled up, we walked to the front door as usual and waited for the driver to open it.

Woman wearing pink sitting on a bus - view from behind.
Woman sitting on a bus

And waited … and the door still didn’t open. We stood there in the rain, and several minutes later and after knocking on the door, a passenger got off the bus and said that the driver was pointing for you to use the back door. I have some residual vision, but it wasn’t good enough to see the driver through the door to see his hand signals.

We got on the bus and the driver didn’t utter a single a word. We made our way to accessible seats so that there was enough room for us both.

Later, an elderly man pushed the button to get off. The driver stopped and opened the back door. We heard his walking stick got the floor as he dropped it trying to manoeuvre around seats and others from accessible seats to the back door. He struggled gripping seats and in a weak voice said “thank you driver” and tentatively stepped off. There was still not a word or movement from the driver and I noticed the bus didn’t kneel for this passenger who struggled to step down from the bus.

The bus continued and when it was our stop the driver only opened the back door. We stood and Guide Dog Sienna started to lead me to front door as she is trained to do. The driver said nothing, did not open the door or even turn around. I corrected Guide Dog Sienna and we moved to the back door getting off. It was raining incredibly hard at this time and the step down from the back door was steep as the bus was not kneeled.

There would have been a few things that could have helped in this situation. From a General and accessibility point of view. First the driver could have communicated.

I never found out why the front door was not opened. It did not appear broken and no one said. However, getting a replacement bus with a front door that opened if it was in fact broken, kneeling the bus for passengers to get on or off, or any sort of communication with passengers would have helped this situation.

This experience made me consider several things, firstly older adults have disabilities and access needs that are often overlooked or considered aging not something that can be mitigated in similar ways.

Secondly communication is key and many of the adaptations that provide those with a disability access can also assist others who may not have access needs. For example in this case communication.

This situation also highlighted the need for accessibility legislation with clear, measurable and regulated guidelines would make access needs more visible and widely accepted in society.

One thought on “How I see it… A timely reminder about the need for social change

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  1. Communication really is the key!

    This week has been so frustrating, I have been advocating for access to a tertiary institute for my son. Most of the time I don’t notice his disability, it is just part of who he is. Most of the time he doesn’t meed me to advocate for him. Right now I feel like sending a bill to this higher education institution for the hours and hours I have spent just trying to find out if he has been accepted.

    He applied in November, and the course starts this coming Monday 27th. Finally, on Thursday, we received confirmation he was enrolled in a certificate pf proficiency and we could pick his courses. Orientation was on Wednesday…the day before notification. Now I have a orientate him to the campus, on the weekend, one I have never stepped onto in my life. Also, the paper he wanted to do is only available in semester two, but the enrollment offer expired on Monday 27th February.

    This complete botch up of communication is EXASPERATING

    There is no way (that I could find anyway) to seek help from disability services unless you are enrolled. The earliest available appointments are in March. While I was trying to get access to disability services and calling them individually as it was the only way I could access them I was thinking about how incredibly difficult was for me as a computer literate adult with a tertiary education to navigate this system.

    How is someone who is blind supposed to navigate they ridiculously complex enrollment system. How is someone who is deaf supposed to request help when you have to phone to ask for it? The irony of the fact that he could do papers on disability services was not lost to me.

    My sons disability impacts his ability to communicate neurotypically. He is articulate, normal to high intelligence, hyperfocus and talent in spades (OK I know I’m biased) but phone calls and emails are not his thing. By that stage he was ready to walk away from the whole thing. I feel like the student services recruited him with false promises of support, and also failed to disclose the process fully. He thought he was just doing a microcredential that would cost $500…but it now appears that these are only available to postgraduates. The undergraduate papers are costs over $900 each, but because he is not full time (and due to his disability may not be able to be full time) Study Link will not fund it.

    I really, really hope that this institute can turn this bad start around. Having to battle for appropriate accommodations is exhausting. Having them denied is soul destroying. I intend to follow up as I now know this was not an exception. It happens commonly to people who are neurodiverse. I have complained about this issue and I hope I can see change happen.

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