Finding inclusion in an inaccessible world

By Dom Freestone, 21 May 2018 , Comments

Often living with a disability – particularly one that impairs movement – means making compromises and putting up with discrimination. This compromise and discrimination mostly goes unnoticed.

Unfortunately this silent, unspoken reality has the capacity to disempower a person and make them feel like a lesser being. It’s not an intentional plot by society to disassociate itself from the undesirables and keep us in our place, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. I’m speaking of the inaccessible world in which we live.

Now if you’re like so many people I’ve met along my journey, you’ll be saying to yourself, “places have to be accessible, it’s the law”. Well, I don’t know where this law is written or who is enforcing it, but things are very rarely truly accessible. I can’t even get into my local post office to buy a stamp or mail a letter due to inaccessibility.

You may be thinking, “how does that disempower you or make you feel like a lesser person?” Well, this is just the tip of the iceberg my friend. What if after not being able to post the letter you thought, “I’m a little hungry, I might get something to eat”. Well, the takeaway near the post office is also not wheelchair-friendly, so you either need to scream your order to the person behind the counter from the footpath, or ask a Good Samaritan to place an order for you. It’s enough to make you feel like a drink – but alas the bottle shop next to the takeaway is also not wheelchair-accessible!

It’s not just that places are inaccessible that disempowers; it’s also people’s attitudes. I was out with my dad one day looking for a new washing machine and I rolled into a store. The shop assistant walked toward me, then, while doing an awkward side step as clearly he did not want to make physically contact with me for fear of contracting whatever I had, he asked if I could let him pass. I moved to let him pass and he quickly walked over to my father, who was about 10 metres behind me, and asked him if he needed any help.

This kind of discrimination is too common and day after day, year after year, it has a way of deflating and disempowering individuals. This is often exacerbated when traveling, as you have no idea of the area and what to expect. Recently I was invited to stay at Sargood on Collaroy Beach – an establishment operated by Royal Rehab. It didn’t take me long to see that Sargood understood the importance of not only having an accessible room, but of also promoting social integration and activities to allow everyone to participate and feel of worth.

There is a sense of community and empowerment in seeing people with a disability interacting with one another, without fear of being mistaken for members of a group home. This place is allowing people to reconnect with who they are at their core and share in life again; not only with other people with disability but with friends and family. Participating again, not just sitting on the outside looking in. Places like Sargood offer more than just an amazing getaway; it’s a place to rediscover yourself, a place that’s working to break down the barriers that have been built up over the years. I sit in my fully automated room and feel, for the first time in a long time, like someone understands my needs. I feel like I matter again.

Related Content

Learn more about Dom’s story in this new podcast series from the SpineCare Foundation.

Check out our tips on how you can create a more inclusive society.

Read all about Lenny’s trip of a lifetime.


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