Ms Christie always factors in extra time for her journey, especially when she has an appointment, because train drivers will sometimes forget the station at which she needs to disembark.
“I used to live in Northcote and sometimes I couldn’t get out until Preston because the driver would forget,” she says.
“There are some stations where the platform is raised, which is great, because you can enter and exit and are not reliant on someone remembering you are there.”
Ms Christie doesn’t use trams at all because some have steps and only some tram stops have ramp access.
“Public transport is better than nothing but there are a lot of barriers I wasn’t expecting in such a big city.”
Public transport is one of four key areas which need to be improved to make the city more inclusive for people with a disability, according to a University of Melbourne study.
The study held separate brainstorming workshops for people with physical, sensory, intellectual and psychosocial disabilities.
Ramping up Melbourne’s disability access
- Make all tram stops accessible
- Better signs at building entrances
- Increase accessible toilets
- Reduce clutter on footpaths
- Reduce the gap between the train and platform
- Make restaurants more accessible
- Provide more low-floor trams
- Do not segregate people with disabilities at events
- Provide disability training for public transport staff
- Provide calm low-sensory spaces around the city
- Consult people with a disability
Lead investigator Jerome Rachele said he learned more in those eight hours of workshops, listening to people with disabilities, than in any academic textbook.
“Public transport was a big issue,” Dr Rachele says. “Transport was raised across all disability types, but often for different reasons.”
People with physical and sensory disabilities, for example, raised problems with accessibility of trams and trains and stop design.
People with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities highlighted the need for accurate visual and audio announcements, especially for service disruptions, and training for transport staff about the diversity of disability and the need for friendliness.
The other main themes to emerge from the study were use of footpaths, the need to consult people with disabilities when designing public policy, and improving legislation.
Ms Christie, who participated in the study, used to live in Los Angeles, where disability discrimination laws are much stronger and cafes and restaurants are accessible to people in wheelchairs.
(The Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law, prohibits discrimination based on disability and imposes accessibility requirements on public transport, restaurants, hotels, cinemas etc.)
But in Melbourne every day is a logistical challenge. Ms Christie and her friends with disabilities joke they should be detectives because they are so adept at scoping out joints and accessing information.
Before going anywhere Ms Christie studies street views on Google maps, looking for stairs and clutter on footpaths, and searches businesses’ websites for information on wheelchair accessibility. Construction work can throw a spanner in the works.
“A big part of me navigating the city is planning,” Ms Christie says. “I have to plan access and routes well in advance.”
Ms Christie works in Queen Street, where many cafes have a couple of steps. “It is so frustrating,” she says. “You can see food you want to order but you just can’t get inside.
“It is ironic to me that cafes and restaurants say they are heritage listed so they can’t put in a ramp when the Colosseum, which is 2000 years old, has an accessible ramp and bathrooms and an elevator.”
About 18 per cent of Australians have a disability.
Melbourne city councillor Beverley Pinder says the findings will inform the council’s disability action plan.
“The City of Melbourne is committed to drawing on the insights of this study to help make our city more inclusive for everyone,” she says.
Cr Pinder wants events to become more inclusive. She hopes to see a category for people with disability in the Birdman Rally at next year’s Moomba, for example.
Model Jason Clymo, who is in a wheelchair, participated in Melbourne Fashion Week last year.
Although the council does not have jurisdiction over public transport or legislation Cr Pinder says it can play a role by lobbying the state government and business.
“I look at everything through the disability lense having a stepson with autism,” she says.
“It’s not just about patronisingly saying ‘let’s put in a ramp’, it’s looking at participation.”
A Department of Transport spokesperson said the government was making sure Victoria’s public transport was modern and inclusive, including the use of accessible trams, trains and buses and the upgrading of tram stops and improvement of train stations.
“We’ll continue working with operators, community groups and locals to make sure our network meets the needs of all Victorians.”
Meanwhile, Ms Christie dreams of the day when she doesn’t have to think about accessibility.
“Every building, event and public transport option in Melbourne would be wheelchair accessible and I could simply go about my day like everyone else.”
Jewel Topsfield is Melbourne Editor of The Age.