By Alex Linker
By now, everyone knows about the current struggles with Sydney’s public transport system, particularly when it comes to getting to UNSW. However, for students with disability, getting to uni has been a struggle since long before this year.
Like many people with disability, I find the public transport system difficult to navigate. My balance and pain issues mean that I need to sit down; but I look young and healthy, so I can feel awkward and uncomfortable asking for a seat.
I experience a lot of anxiety when travelling on public transport, and the chaotic nature of it often leads to sensory overload, which is a wholly unpleasant experience.
For those who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs, it can be even harder to navigate the system. Not all buses are accessible for wheelchair users, and often the elevator to access train stations and their platforms can be difficult to locate.
Buses and train stops are also often located far from one’s actual destination. When light rail construction commenced, Anzac Parade bus stops were moved further away from UNSW’s entrance. For people with limited mobility due to injury, chronic pain, or illness, this can make actually getting to university from the bus stop that much harder, and can lead to students avoiding university due to access difficulties.
Of course, there’s also the issue of the 891 waiting times. I’m lucky to live in the opposite direction, so I don’t have to deal with this, but as the SRC Students with Disabilities Officer, I’ve had the chance to listen to the stories of those who have had to deal with the 891 on a daily basis.
I spent an afternoon putting myself in their shoes, catching the 891 to Central and waiting in the ridiculous lines. It was hot, and I was exhausted after a full day of class (and teaching) – all I wanted to do was get home and nap.
But instead, I got in the line for the 891.
And I waited.
Even with my noise-cancelling headphones, the sounds around me started to overwhelm me. My ankles, knees, and shoulders were hurting. Five minutes in, I had to put my backpack down.
I had forgotten to fill up my water bottle, and at some point I started to feel dehydrated. If I left to get water, I would lose my place in the queue. My head was pounding, but I had committed to this experience and I was going to see it through.
Eventually, after what felt like forever, I got onto a bus. Of course I was unable to find a seat, and as usual, I felt too uncomfortable to ask someone to move for me. So I stood.
I had to place my bag in the luggage rack at the front of the bus; there was no way I could keep my balance with it on my back. I stood near the front, holding on to the railing with both hands so I wouldn’t fall.
The sounds of the bus and everyone around me were becoming almost impossible to bear. This was compounded by all the people brushing up against me, sending me further into sensory overload.
I turned up my music to try and tune it all out, held on tight, and tried to avoid the people surrounding me.
Finally, after (again) what felt like forever, we arrived at Central. I almost left my bag, but remembered it at the last second. I felt like I needed to sleep for 100 years to get over how I was feeling.
And that was just my experience. One experience. Everyone with disability will have their own experiences and their own stories.
I drive to university on most days. Even though I live close by, I work and go to therapy in the Bondi area, which is often too difficult to get to by public transport for me.
I pay exorbitant amounts of money to park on campus, because I often can’t face the walk from the nearest all-day parking. And even then, the two major car parks (Barker Street and Botany Street) are only just now having lifts installed, so I have to trek up and down five flights of stairs daily.
I’m lucky though, and I recognise my privilege: I have access to a car and I am able to afford parking at UNSW.
Students with disability deserve access to their education. But if we are unable to even get to or from UNSW, how can we?