Introduction to council wheelchair accessibility
Wheelchair accessibility in my council area is vital to me. I moved into my new home at the beginning of October 2019. It is a custom-built home that has a focus on accessibility and exercise. I have a disability and use a variety of wheelchairs. Other mobility devices include a road bike, which is actually a tricycle. I drive a VW transporter van that has a lifter that opens to the side. This is why I need two spaces for my vehicle. When I park on the driveway, I usually get out on the left driveway and park in the middle. I am fortunate to have a home gym with wheelchair accessible equipment, as well as a lap pool. A lifter takes me from the wheelchair and into the water. I press buttons located under the water to operate a swim turbine. This device moves the water, and I swim against it. Going nowhere!
The house plans included a triple vehicle garage, of which one space is my van, one space to gain access to the van, and another space for a vehicle driven by someone else living with me. The council initially refused the triple garage, but kindly accepted the design when they were informed of my disability and my VW. I’ve not seen many triple garages in the suburbs of the council area. The council seems to listen to the needs of PWD (people with a disability).
I don’t feel the need to share the name of the council because I have an issue that I’m trying to resolve. Good wheelchair accessibility in my council area is the goal. Being able to ride my bike is another issue. Read on.
The 3rd garage space is also utilised to store my bike and other mobility items. The bike is wide, as I sit in between two wheels. It is difficult to operate, as the steering, braking, and acceleration are all managed via the hand pedals, and there is a nearby gear changer too. Two springs prevent the rider from turning too sharply to help ensure the bike and they don’t fall over. The turning circle is huge. The bike has trouble climbing steep roads, is difficult to get into, but is great for my fitness levels. And it is good to get outside to exercise in the fresh air.
Higher foundation = steeper driveway
Just after the home foundation was poured I noticed the house looked higher than I thought it would be and higher than established homes in the area. The builder mentioned that the council regulations for flooding now require homes to be higher than before. I thought that was strange, as we are nowhere near flowing water such as a river. So I can successfully ride my bike back into the garage, I would need to get some speed, and then a wide turn into my driveway, and go hard and straight up it.
As I can’t walk, I can’t jump off the bike and push it up. If I don’t make it into the garage, I stay in the driveway as the hand brakes don’t allow the bike to reverse. My wheelchair is kept in the garage during my ride.
4 Months after moving in
My bike had just been delivered from storage, and I was ordering parts so I could start riding again. I got a letter from the council, telling me the driveway was too wide, and I had a limited number of days until I was fined $5,000 and charged to have it removed I was shocked, as I didn’t realise that anything had been done that wasn’t in accordance with the permissions given. The council wanted to remove the left driveway that extended from my property to the road.
The council provided me with an approval letter that I’ve never been seen before, and it only gave permission for a double driveway. If I had known this a year ago, I would have brought it up with the builder and the council, as it presented accessibility and safety problems for me when I wanted to ride my bike. I wouldn’t be able to use my bike if a vehicle was parked in the middle driveway. The reasons were
- going downhill, the large turning circle wouldn’t allow me to turn left before I hit the lawn, and just beyond this is the kerb
- going uphill, having to turn going up the driveway, as well as slowing down, I wouldn’t get up the driveway and into the garage
Increase wheelchair accessibility in the council area, not decrease it!
Typically, I contact organisations to increase accessibility, but in this case, the organisation contacted me to decrease accessibility! In the four months, I’ve been living there, multiple council workers had visited, and said nothing. When a worker finally did, it would have been better to discuss it, rather than sending a threatening letter.
The council worker visited and gave 2 reasons why the driveway should be changed.
- It would increase street parking
- provide more greenery
I measured the distance between the proposed change and my neighbour’s driveway, and the number of cars parking would not increase. As for the greenery, it is something that I would need to attend to, as the council expects the ratepayer to establish and maintain the council’s land. But, I have no motivation now to do that. So no extra car spaces and no greenery. No advantages.
Explaining the accessibility issue to the council
Via a long email, I explained the accessibility and safety issues with the reduction of the area where the driveway meets the road. I dragged my bike to the end of the driveway and took photos. I placed a cone which represented the rear corner of a vehicle parked in the middle driveway. The tape measure represented where the council now wanted the lawn to reach.
The council worker didn’t bother to respond to my email. He contacted the landscaper instead and mentioned that he was unsure how the change would prevent the tricycle from being used. How would the landscaper know about my bike? The council worker asked the landscaper if the council worker should respond to me. After all, I’m only the ratepayer who wants to ride his bike!
Possibly the two things PWD (people with a disability) hate are accessibility issues, and other people not talking to them about their disability and the accessibility issues faced. I suggested to the council worker that if the council can change their mind about a 3 vehicle garage due to accessibility reasons, they can do the same with the driveway. He wasn’t interested and didn’t seem to have the required experience or training in regards to accessibility.
Ignorance of the law is not an excuse, but not knowing about one piece of paper isn’t such an issue, and it shouldn’t prevent me from riding my bike. Possibly the landscaper should have spoken to the council, but he has never had this kind of issue in other council areas.
Where to from now?
As the council worker wasn’t listening and doesn’t seem to be concerned with accessibility, and not talking to me directly, I’ve asked him to refrain from talking to me about this issue again. I will take it up with other people and organisations.
I’d like to ride my bike.
And to be able to use the footpaths in the suburbs surrounding my home. The paths are not suitable for a few reasons.
- too dangerous for wheelchair use – tree roots are the main issue
- back pain increases
- wheelchair damage – I’ve had to ask my wheelchair retailer to fix my chair a few times now
I drive my wheelchair on the roads.
Talking to my council about wheelchair accessibility is the next step. It won’t be with the person that doesn’t seem to care about the topic.
Previously I lived in the Port Adelaide Enfield council area. Their access and inclusion plan can be read here.