Not so long ago I posted a photo on my disability access campaign Facebook Page, No Permit No Park of a very poorly placed disability accessible parking bay at my local soccer ground. We already had one that is fabulously placed and incredibly effective. Being a very large park someone in council rightly decided another had to be added to the marked street parking area, but in doing so kind of slapped the disability community in the face. While the size and marking of the space complies to the On Street Parking Standards of 19-goodness-knows-how-long-its-been-since-it-was-updated-96, that’s where the compliance and accessibility ends. Access from the space is incredibly difficult for many wheeled mobility users. As the permit holder has to enter or exit the vehicle, well you can’t even use it as a viewing spot.
Typical unintentional ableism, slap the international symbol of access on it and call it accessible, job done right? No. Just no.
Why should I care so much anyway? It’s not like I’m about to run out there to play a game of soccer right? No, my reason is far more self indulgent.
See as well as a person with a disability, future crazy cat lady and incredibly cynical and sarcastic bitch, I am also a soccer mum. Ok not in the traditional sense but I have a kid who plays soccer and I love going to watch him. I’m pretty sure he likes that I come to watch him. Most of the time. When I’m not embarrassing him.
So today wasn’t at our most awesome local soccer field that is for the most, reasonably accessible. It was an away game. We drove from Murrumba Downs to Mansfield to arrive at a soccer field where my estimate is that with teams and club officials there’d be maybe 70 to 100 people in attendance at any given time from 8am through to 1pm. There was parking for 11 cars in the car park. Street parking was very restricted due to clearways and no stopping zones allowing parking for maybe another 20 cars max.
THERE WAS NO DISABILITY ACCESSIBLE PARKING. Or paths.
Imagine my inner GRRAAAARRGGGHHHH when I heard the registration number of my car (that someone else drives for me since I’m not currently allowed to drive) being called to move because they’d parked in the car park but too close to the emergency exit. I was still desperately seeking coffee! Meanwhile chaos had been created by the club not notifying our team that they were not in fact playing on that field but on another one they use way over the road behind the school.
I tried to politely explain to the grumpy old man impatiently waiting for my driver to come and move my car because he didn’t see the NO PARKING HERE ANYTIME sign that had fallen over, that they really needed to consider that there was no disability parking available and my driver was doing the best he could to ensure I was able to safely access the field. Wait it gets better I promise you…….
See the issue wasn’t that the sign was badly placed and not clearly visible apparently, nor that there was no reasonable disability access. It was that it’s not the club’s responsibility. True story. The grumpy old man told me to “take it up with council, they’re the ones who haven’t done it.”
Sure, this may be true. It is council property. It is council responsibility. Are council aware of what is needed at this particular park? Who knows. Clearly no one thinks it’s their problem so no one has bothered to raise the issue with council.
Here’s the thing Sports Clubs…. if you want to be inclusive, you need to take on some responsibility for inclusion. I’ve been to sports fields all over South East Queensland and you just can’t pick it when it comes to disability access. The ones you least expect to be accessible way out in whoop whoop country backwinds of some outer region are often the ones best equipped! Yet here in the big bad city with all the bling I turn up to find myself having two choices. Watch from a distance through the telescopic lens of my camera or allow my dignity to be lost to having someone carry me the distance, or hope that if I do decide to use the inaccessible toilet facilities I am able to get up by myself and not have to call out and ask some random to go fetch someone I know well enough to help me up out of the seat and pull up my pants.
Most of the time I can manage on my own…. for now. As I deteriorate I am well aware that those days are numbered. Regardless, I am also well aware that if I can’t manage, then many other people with disabilities would be even more excluded than I am.
The kids on your teams may not have disabilities. Your club may not have a specific program for kids with disabilities, but these kids playing, they have parents and sometimes, those parents are people just like me. People with disabilities. Clubs often wonder why they can’t get more kids involved in their club. More kids more fees, more fees more money to spend. On upgrading the club facilities. You make it impossible for some kids to get involved when their parents cannot access you.
It doesn’t take much to get some action on disability access though, when you’re leasing a council asset. If you’re prepared to ask council to mow fields and install toilets, if you’re prepared to pay the fees for the lights for training of an evening, then be prepared to assume responsibility for disability access and demand that council provide it since after all, you’re the one paying the rent.
The only assistance we were offered was being told there was parking over the road at the school. Looking across the road I saw a driveway with a locked boom gate. Our team hustled across and down the boom gate blocked road toward the soccer field they were required to be at while I shuffled along behind carrying my bag, blanket and coffee and trying in vain to not fall on my face. I was stopped by a soccer dad who very kindly gave me directions on how to get my car through the school using another driveway further down the road and driving around the school to a car park that was closer to the field we needed to be at.
Very grateful for his assistance I got my driver to drive me around following kind soccer dad’s directions and low and behold there was this magnificent parking lot fully equipped with disability accessible parking, parking for buses, parking for you, me and pretty much the entire club all just a few 100 metres walk away had they put out some signage giving people directions on where to park. Totally oblivious to the fact that the reason they are there to play is because other teams who are not familiar with their facilities are driving miles out of their comfort zones to be there.
Meanwhile, across the road, parents with disabilities are not signing their kids up to the soccer club because no one cares that on appearance it looks like there is no disability access.
I had another rather heatede public discussion with a football club once, after someone had posted a photo of a coffee van parked in their one and only disability space in the car park on instruction by the club manager. The club manager did not appreciate it when I made a very polite attempt to educate them about discrimination. They told me since THEY and not council were the ones who put in the disability parking space when it had been brought to their attention that there wasn’t one then THEY could do whatever the hell THEY wanted with it and if that meant putting the coffee van in it then so be it. Besides, there was plenty of other parking and THEY didn’t see anyone needing to park in it. True story. This actually happened. On the Facebook Page. It just so happened that the reason the photo was posted in the first place was because a grandparent wanted to watch their grandson play football and were, in fact, told they’d have to struggle on with whatever was available because the coffee van had permission to be there and the disability parking permit holder, well, didn’t.
I know I know. Please someone stab me in the eye with a blunt object so I don’t have to keep writing this crap.
Come on sports fans. Get onto your clubs. Ask them if they have a disability inclusion plan. If they don’t, strongly recommend they should consider it. They just might get more people signing up.