Building access is expensive? Try living with a disability!

While the federal government via the string of unsuccessful Social Services ministers, Kevin Andrews, Scott Morrison and now Christian Porter, continue to demonise people with disabilities as being the burdens of society, Disability Services in Australia are still rubbing their greedy little hands together knowing how expensive it is to live with a disability and seeing us as a commodity rather than a burden. From in home assistance services to providers of mobility aides to home and vehicle modification and technology assistance device developers they’ve all got their sights set on one thing. Our money. We’re necessity spenders. We spend on things we HAVE to have to spare any chance of a decent quality of life in a world that still begrudges having to cater to our needs.

$4000 laser light for people with Parkinson's to use when they have freezing gait. A laser light.

$4000 laser light for people with Parkinson’s to use when they have freezing gait. A laser light.

$200 Cushion to help someone stop rolling over in bed. Yes, $200.

$200 Cushion to help someone stop rolling over in bed. Yes, $200.

Recently on a bus trip back from a fabulous inclusive council event, I found myself in the company of a gentleman who saw fit to ask me what it is I do. Apparently in some circles who you are and what you do is still important. I was there as an invited guest for whatever reason council saw fit to invite me. I didn’t think what I did was important but I indulged his curiosity and told him, “I’m a disability access consultant and advocate for rights of people with disabilities.”

He didn’t really care what I did or who I was, what he was looking for was creating an opening to tell me all about himself and when I didn’t appear impressed, he took the opportunity to belittle what I do.

You see this very self important person was a builder. Apparently one of the biggest builders there is. I’d heard of some of the places he built but I didn’t know him by name which it seemed he expected I should. He asked more detail of what I do so I explained I gave FREE consultation and assessment of existing buildings’ disability access with solutions of how they can improve it or in the very least be more compliant. Yep. I’m that idiot. I’m the one who gives out my services for FREEEEEEEEEEEE. So I clearly cannot be as important as him.

The questions then came. “What are your qualifications?” – I’m self educated with assistance from relevant departments responsible for the relevant legislations.
“Can you read building plans?” – Basic plans yes. I really only need to know where the disability access is going to go and the dimensions.
“What about complex plans?” – Well it’s not really relevant to me to know where the power and water will be running so I don’t need to understand complex architectural diagrams, only the things relevant to access which I can identify.
“Have you ever built anything?” – actually, yes. Our family owned a landscaping business so I’ve built a few things, can you be more specific?

Then came the part I was NOT expecting but it made me realise what is wrong with the world and the obstructions to our battle for inclusive communities?

“Do you know how costly it is to do all that disability access stuff?”

Truth is in the scope of things it doesn’t have to be that costly if you get it right the first time and think about the practicality of it rather than how pretty it should look. Of course when you don’t need disability access it can seem like a complete waste right?

Wait…. what about parents with prams?????? Okay lets remove the controversial parking factor…. for years mothers and others complained about the need for wider entries and ramps and lifts and change areas for babies and seating areas that are NOT toilets because some people just can’t deal with boobs with a baby attached to them. And retailers heard and they saw the potential dollar signs of a return from a target market that wanted to be relieved of their boredom but struggled to find the means to do so. That’s right it had nothing at all to do with inclusion or equity. It was purely a marketing ploy but a very beneficial one to that target market.

Parents spend. Parents have children that need to be spent on. If you have kids, whether you’re getting it from employment or the government you’re getting money and who better to relieve you of that heavy cash but retailers, yaaaaaaay! Ice creams for everyone!

How do we translate this to disabilities? It seems society in general have a misconception people with disabilities have needs but not wants. Why would we want to go shopping? What could we possibly spend money on in a shopping centre. Shouldn’t we be at the mobility aides store? Where is your carer?

We’re viewed as being dependant therefore we couldn’t have an independently controlled income or the desire to want to spend it. But the government says they have to build access so they comply with what they have to and slip a few dollars to the inspector to approve what they think they can get away with.

When it comes to parking it’s no different. When compliance isn’t tough they’ll just slap in a space with a wheelchair symbol on it and call it accessible. It doesn’t work because you can barely see it, it’s not wide enough and it’s right down the very end of the strip way away from the entrance, but we called it accessible so deal with it.

disability parking fail

No. Just no.

Line marking and a bollard is all it takes right? How much does that actually cost? It’s going to vary and of course like any person wanting the best price you need to shop around but here’s a bit of an average…..


Line marking for two bays including the international symbol of access to the required dimensions in the required colouring using top quality material to last up to ten years, plus the shared access space in the middle cost including GST is around $160. A bollard for the shared space – using a standard yellow metal concreted fixture, $350 including installation. So for $510 you have accessible spaces for two cars for almost 10 years. 7 day trading. Average shopping time 2 hours. So that potentially attracts 8 spending customers per day. According to Inside Retail, Australian’s spend on average $141 per person in supermarkets alone. So just two disability accessible parking bays can potentially bring in $410 592 per year. $510 for ten years to gain $4 105 920?

I’d love to show this to that builder and ask how he’d feel about losing $4.1 million a year per double accessible parking bay. Sure you could put in a few more regular bays because they spend too right? But regular old parking doesn’t attract regular shoppers. You’re competing with every other retailer for that market. Besides, those of us who are brave enough to enter a shopping centre car park know there’s always (Christmas Crazies excepted) available regular parking when they are compliant to the building code but still we’re struggling to get proper disability accessible parking.

Make your premises the ultimate shopping experience in accessibility and you’re already winning over that target market that just want to be included. Not just them, but the people in their lives too.

The facts:

  • Almost 4 million Australians have a disability.
  • About 50 per cent of people aged over 55 have difficulty with their mobility, hearing or vision.
  • By 2050 more than 25 per cent of the population will be over 65.
  • If you add families, friends and colleagues the number of people affected by disability is even greater.
Source: Australian Human Rights Commission

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Comments (3)

  1. Wayne


    Do you have the numbers for the amount of parking permits currently issued in QLD? How about Brisbane?

    • nopermitnopark


      Hi Wayne,
      I don’t have up to date numbers specifically for Queensland. The most recent I have is from early 2012 with 132000 permits current (including red permits). At that time the population of Queensland was 4.3M so around 3% of the population held a current permit. That is expected to still be fairly stable today as while an increase in permit applications may have occurred in population increase with an ageing population we have seen the elimination of a number of red permits as they become discontinued.

      Interestingly as a comparison, I have current numbers for NSW. They have 367,037 current permits with a population of around 7.5M that’s almost 4.9% of the population.

      So it begs the question doesn’t it… why is the rate of permit holders to population so high in NSW compared to Qld? According to the ABS it’s not that NSW has a higher proportion of people with disabilities with both states having very similar percentages of population with disabilities. It seems that while NSW has transitioned to the image of the new Australian Disability Parking Permit Scheme, they haven’t adjusted their criteria for eligibility being far more lenient than Qld is when it comes to granting permits.

  2. Reply

    This is really useful data, Elisha. Thanks for this. It’s time to get strategic and political — and to get some leverage into the mix. I’ll be in touch.

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