Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Uprights behaving badly: Footpaths

I am very excited to be sharing with you another posting from IDEAS Board Member Joanna Nicol. I quite like her blog as I think that the view she takes is something quite unique and independent of the usual perspectives on life. Her own experiences are very insightful and her words are a great way to share in with the experiences of a person in a wheelchair.

Joanna Nicol

I’m going to do a series of posts on things I wish those without apparent disability understood or did differently. It is from my perspective as a person who uses a wheelchair, but hope it can be useful more broadly. So to start with:

Footpaths: their use and misuses

My top 5 things six things I wish uprights got about using the footpath:
  1. Don’t just stand there – move something. Standing still at the top of kerb ramps instead of moving off it to allow people crossing to safely and legally get off the road. This is not the place to start a meaning of life conversation or adjust your wardrobe. I, like others need a clear metre at the top of the incline to safely complete the crossing process without tipping myself up or collecting your shins. For many of us who have different mobility issues we need to pick a direction of travel and keep moving as much for safety as energy or anything else so abrupt stopping is never polite. It’s like a car slamming on the brakes every 50 metres instead of going say 30 kph with on-coming traffic coming at you on either side. Also if I am obeying the rules of the road and waiting on the kerb ramp with you jay-walking in the opposite direction please don’t climb over my chair to get off the road.. My footplates are part of my personal space.  
  2. While talking of footpaths they are not the place to mingle with five or six of your friends all looking and talking inwards. Given I am waist high to most of you it can be very hard to attract your attention to keep moving (see above) and am often stuck yelling at people’s belt loops for some minutes waiting for one of the party to look down. Not everyone can sidle past or tap you somewhere that my grandmother would consider polite. I can’t tap you on the shoulder if I’m three foot tall.
  3. Footpaths are still first and foremost designed built and paid for to enable the safe pedestrian movement of all of us. They are not designed to act as a parking lot for prams cars or bikes, a community ashtray, a junk storage zone, a dining room or an extension of your business. While these uses are able to be incorporated in parts and more modern footpathing have integrated these uses, please remember that the narrow footpaths still need to fulfil the movement thing as their primary role.
  4. If you are over 12 do as our parents and the law teaches: please walk your pushbike on footpaths. It’s polite, non aggressive and saves kerb ramps for those of us who have need them to get anywhere not just get somewhere quickly. I know you are doing a good thing for the planet and all that, but polite is still polite. You are still a vehicle. You saving carbon by not using your car is great and something I very much support but the energy flow needed to incorporate your riding on the footpath for me is higher I suspect than for most other people (see point regarding committing to a direction of travel) in the other direction in a need for higher concentration, and the kind of stopping and starting of a machine that you are trying to avoid.
  5. While we are on a roll here can smokers please refrain from lowering your cigarette and it’s plume to get me right in the face. Just as you don’t want it right near your eyes when your not smoking it – neither do I. I have even been ashed in my lap or on my hand or chest more than once. It might also be worth noting that this behaviour is not going to be good for any children in the area either.
  6. This same idea applies to the swinging of handbags and backpacks in the vicinity of my head shoulders or back or failing to look in all directions (up/down as well as forward and back when exiting a shop to re-enter a flow on the footpath. Its like entering a flow of car traffic without checking your mirrors. Bumping the back of a wheelchair isn’t like bumping a chair leg.. I can feel it. If checking in all directions before you move seems exhausting my only solace for you is; if we all did it more we’d probably all have to do it less.
The main things I wish that “uprights” understood about footpath/sidewalk issues are:
  • everyone is trying to get somewhere to be with those we love. I know all the stuff about vibrant footpath culture, but we need to be able to get places to enjoy the culture.
  • everyone comes in different sizes so please look down as well as behind. It can be humiliating talking to belt loops for 5 minutes.

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