“The lucky country” ….or is it?
I haven’t written this blog for a few months, because in July I moved to Australia. I won’t go into detail here about the enormous logistical task it was for my wife, myself (and our cat) to relocate to the other side of the world, but I will say hats off to Justine for bringing about something that few (if any) spouses of severely disabled individuals can ever have done.
The move to this country was precipitated by many things, but primarily by the fact that wheelchair users here encounter many fewer hassles in their daily lives than they do in my old home; London.
There are lots of reasons why the built environment is so much less of a headache for people who are reliant on wheels (including mothers with prams). A few of these are a wiser use of public money, less antiquated buildings, a more modern transport infrastructure, and simply more space (& consequently less tall thin buildings). When you combine this with better weather and less of a desire to spend time indoors, you can begin to appreciate one of the reasons why we found Australia a seductive option.
I say “we” because if the restaurant or café or cinema or shop has an access issue for me, it has an access issue for the person I am with. The environment I’m in restricts not only me, but also my companion.
Australia likes to think of itself as “the lucky country”. From the perspective of living life in a wheelchair, in many ways it is. However, in some ways the country lags far behind the one I have left. On the one hand, individuals generally display a more intrinsic good nature and thoughtfulness, on the other, attitudes towards disabled people could be interpreted as belittling – for example, Justine frequently gets asked the does Max take sugar? -type question.
Apart from attitudes, the State’s approach is markedly different from the UK’s. Sales tax (eg GST) is charged over here on nearly all goods that are needed as a result of being disabled. For example, I might need doorways widening in my house for my wheelchair to pass through comfortably. Here I would be charged GST. Is that fair? Another dramatic difference is that here there is very limited funding for disabled peoples’ needs in the workplace.
As with everything in life, it’s swings and roundabouts. “The lucky country” is only half the story.