Hobart in wheelchair 

Hobart is hilly it’s the first thing you notice disabled or not and it undoubtedly adds to the beauty of this place but not the access.

View from mona

For a city girl like me the first impression of hobart is provincial. On my first venture outside one of the first things I saw was a banner highlighting Masonic contribution to the city (I didn’t even know the masons were still active).

Very quickly the slow, steady and friendly pace becomes infectious and I have quickly come to appreciate the Hobart approach to life.

Getting around

Hobart is small and Tasmania is beautiful so I would strongly recommend hiring a car. Although be prepared for a lot of road kill. Another reason to hire a car is from what I saw access for wheelchair users to public transport is very hit and miss.

There are accessible taxis called maxi taxis and easily available.

 Must see

Mona 

For me the must see near Hobart is Mona (museum of old and New art) it is not like any art gallery you will have been to before.  set on the coast line the building looks like a bond villains hideout it’s not your standard gallery and that’s deliberate.  funded by a rich  individual who made his fortune gambling and bought art and built a gallery, his aim is to get people talking about art the collection and exhibition change frequently and had everything  between  Egyptian mummies & a machine  processing poo. Also has good wheelchair access. 

Bonarong 

You need a car for this one still worthwhile visiting  even though at best the sanctuary is 40% accessible with a manual chair (less with powered). unsurprisingly wheelchair users get in free.

Why go when access is challenging simple- it’s a sure fire way of seeing Tasmanian wildlife close up and alive  (you’ll see plenty of road kill). Wheelchair users get in free and it’s a sanctuary so only keep animals who can’t get back to the wildlife.

Hidden gem
Straight up a 100% gluten free vegetarian cafe with delicious food and wheelchair accessible 


 

Meeting Karin and Mathew 

As well as meeting organisations in Austrialia I am also meeting individuals who are leading and disabled.

Why?

Because I acknowledge there can be a difference between leading organisations and leading individuals. In some ways an organisation gives a structure to lead from which can be easier than seeing a gap the needs leadership and filling it.

That being said if you ae leading on an issue you dont necessarily need people to follw you to be considered a leader especially if no one else is doing what you are. Leadership in and by organisations is more challenging as you have to bring other people along with you and form a vision which reasonates.

I’m also meeting with individuals in acknowledgement of the inaccessibility and deterents there are to gettig involved in disability rights work with organisations.

Mathew and Karin

In Brisbane on recomendation of QDN I met individually with Karin Swift and Mathew Townsend

Karin

Karin is a member of staff at QDN  who leads on consultation work with the organisations members. She is also a board member for WWDA a Disabled women’s organisation working accross Australia.
Karin was awesome to talk to talk to and I learned a lot from her about how leadership development happens within QDN & WWDA.

The biggest message I got from our meeting was the importance of feeling valued and being given support to access opportunities which are slightly out of peoples comfort zones.

zara and karin at qdn

Mathew 

Mathew is a young member of QDN who is very politically active and woking part time for Brisbane council supporting community based enviromental work. We had a chat about the barriers to political participation that face disabled people. Mathew told me the work he has been doing making his local green party more accessible and inclusive. For Mathew there was a strong belief that if disabled people are goin o realise tier rights it is importnt to wok with mainstream political movements.

A key thing that supported Mathew`s leadership was having a social network who understood his needs and offered fiendship and support.

zara and mathew at a brisbane cafe

 

Meeting QDN

Last week I had the privilege of meeting with Michelle Moss & paige Armstrong  at QDN . From the outside QDN is an unassuming building in the suburbs of brisbane but on the inside it is a hive of activity. QDN is the leading dpo for queensland as I mentioned in a earlier blog DPOS in Australia currently  receive funding from local and national government to carry out representative functions around disability and this is how qdn gets money.

As a result all around its  meeting space are graphics photos and evidence of consultation. 

It was really interesting to hear about some of the emerging challenges and opportunities facing DPOS in Australia particularly around competition from the private sector and adoption of the language of independent living by the government without full comprehension of what that looks like in practice.

My key learning from my meeting were

1) use membership 

QDN have a large membership at least by UK dpo standards and they actively engage with there membership providing them with opportunities to understand and use their rights. The volume of easy read materials was particularly noticible.

2) NDIS

Talking to Michelle I learned a lot more about the new national disability insurance scheme which is the roll out of direct payments and personal budgets  in Australia it’s big, relatively new and has teething troubles but has massive potential. Organisations like QDN are making sure that all disabled people are aware of the opportunities for choice and control the scheme offers. QDN is doing some really interesting to ensure that people with learning disabilities are not left behind.

What I found slightly surprisingly and depressing is Australia has a long history of institutionalising disabled people and is still struggling with deinsitutionalisation particularly around small group homes.

3)training the trainers

To support QDNs development of leaders they run training of trainers for any disabled people that  want to get involved in projects.in fact they build it into all project programmes to ensure that it’s not just the usual suspects taking part.

4)representation vs advocacy

There is a big divide in Australia between representative dpos and organisations that do collective and individual case advocacy. The roles are  separated which surprised me as most organisations in the UK do both. 

Me meeting with Michelle from QDN

Brisbane as a wheelchair using visitor 

Brisbane sign in front of the skyline
Brisbane sign in front of the skyline

Brisbane is our second stop on our Winston Churchill memorial fellowship. Brisbane is the 3rd largest city in Australia and it’s definitely underrated. 

I’ve met some amazing people and organisations here but that’s different blog  (which will follow) however even without the people I’ve  met in would definitely recommend a short visit should you  be coming to this part of the world. 

Central brisbane is easy to navigate and city itself is kind of organised in themes you have the business area, the cultural area and the shopping area.

In comparison to Sydney I’ve found it to be more chilled out and more accessible both in terms of being a tourist and being a wheelchair user. The transport is as easy to use and accessible as Sydney but not as busy.

While here Kate and I have strolled along the south bank  which feels quite similar to Londons southbank (love it or loath it they have followed the same architectural style – lots of  concrete)  but also has a beach and rainforest walk in addition to the theatre and concert hall. We have visited the art galleries which are both very accessible and engaging.  

In fact we’ve found  very  little we can’t get into for whatever reason there are less steps here than Sydney.

Travel tips

1) go to the galleries and museums in southbank they are free and fully accessible.

Queensland art gallery interior
Queensland art gallery interior

2) brisbane has lots of shops if you want a cheap but good quality eat look in the shopping centre food courts in wish the UK had such variety. 

Hidden gem

The brisbane museum  well hidden in the town hall it is free to get into and gives a good introduction to the city.

Meeting with PwD Australia 

Zara and Ngila in pwd Australia offices
Zara and Ngila in pwd Australia offices

My first fellowship meeting for the trip was with Ngila Bevan Co-director at. People with Disabilities Australia (PwDA). PwDA have been an important part of this trip for me since the application stage of my fellowship because a meeting with some of their representatives about 6 years ago made me begin to question how inclusive and accessible DPOs  were in the UK. 

In 2011 I met Lesley at an international disability conference she was engaging, on it and just happened to have a learning disability. She was not representing people with learning disabilities but the whole of the organisation. 

For me at the time it was a bit of light-bulb moment (a bit late I know) that with the right support everyone who wants to can lead. 

When I found out that I had been awarded  the fellowship a visit to PwDA became a must. I wanted to gain a better understanding of how the organisation supports inclusive leadership. 

From my chat with Ngila 5 things really stuck out 

  1. Funding 

Currently (although the future is looking uncertain) many pan-impairment dpos in Australia receive funding from local or national government to cover core running costs. This seemed almost alien to me. 

2.Partnerships 

The disability sector in Australia was able to come together as a whole and submit a shadow report from civil society to the United nations on the united nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Although people acknowledge compromises were made to achieve this the outcome has been organisations have found it easier  to work together nationally on other issues.

3.Will – being inclusive and accessible just seems to happen when asked what policies or procedures support this approach the answer is none and why wouldn’t we be accessible to all. There is an acknowledgement of the need for identity specific organisations as well.

4.Openness PwDA seems to be very open I think that this in part comes from the stability in funding and is possibly helped by the fact there isn’t a language division between dpos and the general public.

5. Entry points PwDA have open calls to the membership to represent the organisation. They provide briefing and training to support people to carry out the opportunities. They also encourage people to stand for board positions as a development opportunity and offer internships to disabled students. 
These are just a few of my initial observations more will follow in my final fellowship report.

First impressions of Sydney 

Sydney Opera house
Sydney Opera house

I have been in Australia since Monday and having successfully beaten jet lag  I thought I’d  share my impression of Sydney. 

The first thing thing that strikes me is everything seems so young and modern compared to London. Although the importance of history to Australia is clear everywhere.

The second thing that hits you is just how international Sydney is it felt like days before we before met someone with an Australian accent.

I’ve travelled quite a bit but predominantly in Europe and as a result it is quite novel to be in an English speaking country and I have to admit it makes  negotiating access easier.

However wheelchair access is not as good as it could be or as I expected it to  be many  buildings have a step to get in or make wheelchair users use different  entrances. 

Sydney is a lovely city and I can see why people come here and I’m looking forward to spending more time here later in my trip.

Accessible tourist tips 1

  1. Go on an access tour of the opera house (thanks jo b for the tip) it’s a bit expensive but definitely worth it. 
  2. Grab a drink at the museum of contemporary arts great views
  3. If you are a wheelchair user don’t attempt to cross the harbour bridge as a pedestrian  it is not possible 

Hidden gem 1

The Martian embassy – this seemingly quirky shop in redfern is part of an initiative to get children  writing and reading  stories. 

The ultimate test 

Although applying for the  Winston Churchill Memorial trust fellowship was driven by my desire to find out more about the disability movement down under, part of my drive to  apply came  from  knowing that there was no other circumstances that I would subject myself to the journey.

While for most people  going to  Australia or new Zealand from the UK is a big deal, for me it felt incredibly risky. I’ve done  long flights before but never two back to back. 

Physically flying is a challenging as a female wheelchair user is end up being man handled to my seat and then I  have to assume that i will not be accessing the toliet during the flight. Now on a 3 hour flight going without the loo for me is doable but 11 hours takes planning.

To minimise the impact I:

  • Travel with a personal assistant 
  • Travel in a manual wheelchair 
  • travelled via Korean air as they provided the most even flight legs
  • Strictly monitor and limit my liquid intake 
  • As a last resort wore an adult  nappy

As it turned out Korean air  were better than most  long distance airline I have previously travelled on and offered me an aisle chair to the toliet.

I have survived the  outward  journey but it doesn’t mean that I’m looking forward to the return.