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A question of access

Every day, Arne Hanna of Redfern, a muso by trade who’s been in a wheelchair for 21 years, negotiates the same route in order to head out into the community to enjoy a cup of coffee at his local café reports Wendy Collis in the South Sydney Herald of February 2009.

Starting at his residence on the Block, Mr Hanna heads along Caroline Street and reaches the corner of Caroline and Abercrombie. Up until approximately 18 months ago he says he used to safely cross Abercrombie Street and access the footpath with the aid of a small gradient or vehicle ramp that was moulded into the gutter. However, around that time, this gradient was removed and the gutter and kerb were completely reinstated, resulting in Mr Hanna finding one morning that he was unable to get up onto the footpath.

“If you want to do anything in Sydney,” he comments, “like put an extension on your house … you’ve got to really jump through hoops to get anything happening, whereas if City Council decides for any particular reason that they want to get rid of a particular feature, they don’t bother to ask anybody – and just away they go!” He adds, “I would have thought it’d be Council policy – rather than to remove these things – to put more of them in.”  

Since the disappearance of the small ramp it is not as easy for Mr Hanna to cross Abercrombie Street. Now he has to keep pushing up the road into oncoming traffic. Using the footpath on the other side of the street (heading up towards the Glengarry Hotel) is not an option as there are no ramps cut into the kerbs and it is not possible for Mr Hanna, while pushing his chair uphill, to mount these gutters.  

“There are a few places around Sydney that are like this,” he says. “Typically, what will happen is that you will get a pedestrian crossing with a gradient on one side and then on the other side there is a kerb ... so for anyone in a wheelchair it is pretty useless.” He adds that Redfern Station itself is another bugbear, with wheelchair access available into the station itself but no access for getting onto the platforms.

Deputy Lord Mayor Marcelle Hoff, when contacted about this situation, advised that the Council has a very strong commitment in relation to disability issues and has a Disability Access Forum. Regarding the “small ramp” in question she advised that “it would be extremely dangerous to construct a disabled access ramp in the same location as users of this ramp would effectively enter the road and be exposed to significant vehicular traffic”. She added that there are pram ramps approximately 20 metres away at the traffic signals on the intersection of Abercrombie and Lawson Streets. These signals incorporate a pedestrian crossing. However, she admitted there are no ramps at Caroline Street and Caroline Lane but stated the following: “I’m told that Council’s Construction team will be installing the four ramps as soon as possible.” 

Mr Hanna remains skeptical. He wonders why Council saw fit to remove the ramp at least a year ago without putting alternative access on either side of Abercrombie Street.

“The problem,” he says, “is that Council, acting without community consultation, removed a ramp in a built-up area, thus making the lives of people with disabilities more difficult and dangerous. In the real world, able-bodied citizens cross roads at places other than designated crossings and do so safely in the majority of instances. If Council thinks it can force disabled people to cross at purpose-built pedestrian crossings exclusively, while the rest of the citizenry enjoys a greater degree of convenience, then this amounts to discrimination.”

The above statement has been forwarded to Deputy Lord Mayor Marcelle Hoff for comment.

Photo: Ali Blogg Caption: Where to from here? Arne Hanna

Source: South Sydney Herald February 2009