January 14, 2009
Sydney Morning Herald
JUST how accessible is Sydney for someone confined to a wheelchair?
A recently retired wheelchair tennis champion, David Hall, accompanied the Herald on a day trip to the central business district, braving Sydney’s much-maligned public transport system and crowded public spaces.
The journey began at the Rockdale Plaza shopping centre. We strolled and rolled to the nearest station rather than brave the buses.
“I mostly drive, to be honest – you’re never quite sure what kind of bus is going to show up,” Hall said.
The train journey was easy: Rockdale station is wheelchair accessible and the CityRail staff had the ramp ready at both ends.
But at the Town Hall council chambers, things became interesting. It was closed to the 36-year-old.
A construction site stood where the disabled access point should have been. A construction worker shrugged his shoulders: “Dunno mate, not here, maybe ask a security guard or something.”
The security guard was asked, but no entry was found.
“It comes down to how far you’re willing to go to actually physically get in,” Hall said.
“Some places have two or three stairs and the question is, ‘Am I going to physically get out, get on the ground and lift my chair up those two stairs and then physically jump back in?”‘
We decided to catch a movie at Market City. “Two sets of stairs, two inaccessible escalators and no signs indicating disability access,” Hall said. “This is where the investigation begins – you become a bit of a lift detective, trying to sniff your way in.”
Eventually we found the lift – a service lift tucked inside the overcrowded markets.
Yum cha was next, but our stomachs remained empty. The restaurant was impenetrable; they all were.
“China Town has some issues with accessibility,” Hall said. “It’s a shame – I really like yum cha.”
Beaten but unbowed, we called it a day – Hall had tennis prodigies to coach.
“I’ve been fortunate to travel around the world through tennis and Sydney isn’t too bad,” he said before rolling into a wheelchair-accessible taxi.
“Not as bad as Europe, not as good as America.”