Accessibility around the world: Invictus competitors on how they get around off the field

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The Invictus Games has brought 500 veterans to Australia, many to compete in wheelchair sports. In Australia, every public building constructed after 2011 must follow standards that require them to be accessible to people with a disability, but there is little done to enforce such standards. So what are the experiences of wheelchair users in Australia? And internationally?

When Team Australia’s co-captain and wheelchair rugby player, Matt Brumby, smashes into an opponent on the court only to do a 270-degree spin and slide across the line to score a try, it is hard to imagine the sportsman having trouble with accessibility.

But being a chair user for almost 18 years, Brumby said accessibility in Australia has dramatically improved. “Here on the mainland, Sydney has definitely stepped its game up,” he said. “There’s a lot more accessible buses getting around than even five years ago when I used to be here.

“The biggest change was after the [Sydney] Olympics.

“Each time we have international events the Government always does a little bit more.” Brumby’s Invictus Games co-captaincy role has made him a frequent flyer, but his home in Tasmania’s Devonport is very supportive of chair users. “All our major public access places are accessible.”

Invictus rugby

Accessibility helps everyone

Despite his praise of the Tasmanian facilities, the sportsman admitted there are always more that can be done in Australia and internationally. “I lived in Switzerland [and] I’ve lived in the US. I’ve travelled a fair amount and I think we’re a lot better than we were,” he said. “I lived in Melbourne for about four years on and off, and they’re starting to change all the tram stops there.”

“Before that it would be like, ‘Can I get off this stop? No, I can’t, I have to get off at the next stop.” For Brumby, improving disability access is a so-brainer.

“It helps everyone,” he said. “The double leg amputees still have a little bit of balance issues with steps.”

“Mothers with prams have nearly the same accessibility issues as people in wheelchairs.”

Difficulties in Romania

Ionuţ Butoi smiling at camera at archery competition.

For Ionuţ Butoi, member of Romania’s Invictus archery team, the biggest issue with accessibility is a lack of modern design. “I live in Câmpulung Muscel, which is a small city in Romania,” he said.

“The city itself is not that disabled-access friendly.

“Barriers can range from blocked wheelchair ramps, to buildings without lifts, to inaccessible toilets, to shops without step-free access.” Mr Butoi has used a wheelchair for a decade after an explosion fractured his spine in Afghanistan in 2008. “The first problem I encountered when I got home after the accident was that I didn’t have access to my own house,” he said. “I live in a flat and I couldn’t enter the block’s hallway because it wasn’t adapted for wheelchairs.”

Experience of disability needed in planning

While his small town is not overly wheelchair friendly, Butoi said disabled access is better in Romania’s cities. “In big cities, most of the institutions have special access for disabled persons,” he said. “Malls are great from this point of view, and I could say that more that 50 per cent of the buildings I needed to go into had ramps.

“Cluj, Bucharest and Craiova are [some] of the cities where I was really happy with the accessibility.” Like Australia, disability access is the law in Romania — something Butoi believes should be regulated by people with lived experience.

“I know disabled persons who could help the authorities with these projects, who want to be involved in the planning process, but as far I know, there is little money for these kind of projects,” he said.

“I think all sidewalks should be adapted for disabled persons, especially at the crosswalks.”

Jordan is getting ‘better and better’

Ulfat Yaseen Ahmad Al-Zwiri smiling post race with her arms in the air.

When Team Jordan’s Ulfat Yaseen Ahmad Al-Zwiri left the stadium after the cycling event at Sydney Olympic Park, the smile on her face remained. “So fun,” she said. “Invictus is so fun.” Al-Zwiri is from Shoubak, a small village in Jordan’s south. She began wheelchair sport in 2016, seven years after a car accident damaged her spinal cord, leaving her with C5/C6 incomplete tetraplegia. While there are challenges, she said the experience using a wheelchair in Jordan is improving.

“A long time ago there were very, very small facilities,” Ms Al-Zwiri said.

“But now with the knowledge of this problem, people get some knowledge about disability, so people are accepting the idea now. “Facilities such as restaurants they [have got] some facilities for people in wheelchairs. While only in Sydney for a week, Al-Zwiri has found the facilities she has used so far have been great. “Here is quite different and a bit better, but you can’t say it’s really bad [in Jordan].” It’s beginning to get better and better.”

Australian curbs are steeper than in the UK

Team UK's Martin Tye smiling at the camea.

Double gold medallist Martin Tye broke a record in Sydney earlier this week lifting 206 kilograms in the Men’s Heavyweight IP6 — the heaviest weight ever lifted at the Games. “You feel so proud having your family to watch you. You’re on cloud nine,” Mr Tye said. Mr Tye lives in Farnborough in the south-east of England, which he said provides reasonable access for wheelchair users. “We’ve had a lot change recently and I’ve not really came across any bad accessible places, [but] some of the smaller villages are not the best for a wheelchair user.”

While only exploring Sydney for the past week, the sportsman said he had noticed some differences in Australia. “Your curbs are so much higher,” he said. “You don’t tend to have as many dropped curbs for crossing the road, but in general it is quite accessible.

“Olympic Park is on a hill which is bummer because going down is easy but coming back up again is pretty hard.”

“There’s always room for improvement.”


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