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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

To Ride the Bus or Not to Ride? Finally a choice...

When I was in Leeds last year, I was pleasantly surprised that I could board almost any bus with my wheelchair. I was reminded of this since following a National Transport Reform, Malta's public transport is now made up of a fleet of low floor busses allowing wheelchair users to travel around Malta. Even if I haven't yet tried the service yet, I hope to try it out as soon as as some teething problems with the system are resolved.

Yes, it would be great if I had greater choice about the transport system I can use to meet my travel needs. Before I became a full-time wheelchair user about 10 years ago, I used to manage to climb the steps of the old buses and until a few years ago, once I started using a wheelchair, I thought that I would never be able to use public transport again. And given that I don't have enough functional vision to drive a car, that rules out driving a car. Unless, of course, they don't start producing smart cars that provide blind or visually impaired people with greater control and information about their environment.

I cannot emphasize enough how important mobility and travel are in my life. Indeed, while there are lots of benefits with working via the internet, this is not a solution to providing employment to disabled people. Home might be a compromise for working a few days every so often, but this kind of online employment, to term it that way, does not promote structural changes in buildings or information systems, but rather reproduces a subtler form of segregated employment. As far as my social life goes, I admit that I like to explore social media and have made many contacts through FaceBook, Twitter and have experimented with blogs, podcasts, and short youtube clips. However, I would still much prefer to talk to my friends in person as I feel that being in the presence of a real person can provide a unique kind of connection.

I believe that improving transport services in a way that they take into account a large number of the population (including the elderly, adults with pushchairs, etc.) is a a positive step in the right direction. However, it's also important to keep working to make the built environment which includes not just buildings but also pavements, roads and open spaces to the greatest number of people, including blind and visually impaired persons, people with a mobility impairment, Deaf and hearing impaired people. Taking into account the existing diversity within the disabled community helps to ensure that real inclusion is achieved.Besides, in no way should measures to make our environment more accessible be construed as a "special provision targeted at disabled people" as it has been in the past. Indeed, the reality is that as people age, it is usually the case that the incidence of acquiring an impairment increases. True, as disabled people, accessibility is essential but it's also true that an accessible world is also a comfortable one. Remember life without a car?

Undoubtedly, we cannot expect that a world largely shaped by an industrial mindset which tended to exclude parts of population who were considered unfit to work because they could not operate rigid machinery (as with disabled people) or through sexist bias, much more needs to be done to achieve a state of inclusion where everyone is valued and can contribute to society wit proper support when necessary. Indeed, the human resource remains the not precious and irreplaceable asset - especially as we are still recovering from a global economic recession. After all, human rights and dignity should come before any economic interests.