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Ramped Up

MAN: Up to about two years ago, one of the biggest bugbears that anyone who's in the disability access community has had is that I could take anyone under the DDA and say, "You're discriminating against me."

And the guy said,

"Well, it's not in the Building Codes. I didn't have to do it."

Back in '92, I'd just finished at the doctor's and I felt like a coffee.

There was a coffee shop across the road.

Trouble was, there was no kerbside ramp.

I couldn't get onto the road. I had to go down a step.

And that, I felt, was quite dangerous.

So I thought, "Blow it.

"When I get home, I'm gonna ring council

"and see if I can do something about it."

Within a 6-month period, they'd put in kerb ramping and they'd rebuilt the pedestrian safety island so I could go and have a coffee without a problem.

That's basically where I...I started.

I'd look in the newspaper,

I'd see a proposed plan for a commercial building.

I would submit a complaint saying that it wasn't accessible because there was step access, narrow doors, no disabled toilets, all that.

It became a fairly standard complaint letter that I developed.

When it went to council for approval by the councillors,

I would go in and say my piece.

And I would have a copy of the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992, and I would hold it up and say,

"If you approve this building, you are breaking federal legislation."

There was a real negative vibe about change.

And as far as I was concerned, the Disability Discrimination Act was not change, it had been around for quite a while.

So, what I did was, I kept in their face.

It's always hard to come up with rubbish denials when you're talking to a man in a wheelchair missing an arm and a leg.

I started building relationships up with the councillors.

As I got to know planners and engineers, they were starting to change things.

MAN: Mark's an interesting character.

He tells you what he thinks and what should be done.

But when you talk to him and go through the issues, he listens.

The other people I went round with, with disabilities, were...

Mark was able to coordinate a person with sight impairment, and I walked round with him and Mark and his dog.

Mark also linked me up with two ladies that were using their disability scooters.

And it's an experience that you have to go through to understand how a person in a wheelchair needs to move around.

MARK: I'd fallen on my feet, as it were, because I had a man that really wanted to do the right thing.

I was starting to get supportive phone calls.

Or I'd be in a council meeting and I'd have somebody I wouldn't even know that worked with council say, "Keep the good work up, Mark."

In 2010, everything changed.

The Disability Discrimination Act and the Australian Building Codes of Australia were melded together.

Buildings that I go to now, I have no complaints about.

If there's a new cafe built, it's accessible.

I can get in there.

Most of them have wheelchair-accessible toilets now.

We have gone from having to fight tooth and nail just to get wheelchair access into a shop to now, it's just standard.

I was approached by council to advise them on developing an accessible beach and water policy.

We already have a beach selected.

It will be, I believe, one of the very few beaches here in Victoria that a person with a disability will not only just get to the driveway but can get actually onto the beach and into the water.

That is what can be achieved if people really put their minds to it and utilise what standards we have and a bit of imagination!