5 Minutes with Clara

Female sitting on a mobility scooter waving her hand

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name’s Clara, I’m 26 and I’m a freelance journalist from Australia. I was born in Sydney and now live just outside the city.
I absolutely love animals and would happily have an apartment full, however my lifestyle doesn’t really allow for it as I also really love to travel.
I’m currently happily single and don’t really see that changing any time soon, as I’m always so busy and I really don’t like dating apps.
Oh and I also love fashion, which can be a challenge.

Can you please tell us a bit about how disability inclusion and accessibility impact you?

Sure. Well firstly I’d say both disability inclusion and accessibility impact us all in one way or another, but for me personally the direct impact is due to having a form of dwarfism. I don’t really consider my height a disability as such, although my surroundings often make it so, although I do experience regular pain due to my condition and as well as causing discomfort, it can also cause me far more frustration than the highest of counters – although it’s a close call.

If you could deliver a 1 hour workshop, dedicated to disability inclusion, to the entire population what would you focus on?

Wow that’s a tough question. As I only have an hour I’d concentrate on behavioural awareness. I’m not just talking about biases; I’m talking about the danger of assumptions and pointers for those who want to be inclusive and are nervous they’ll get it wrong.
When I meet new people they often speak to me the way they would to a child, which isn’t just condescending it’s infuriating.
When I was at uni (university), I must’ve been 20, I went to get on to my scooter seat and a guy I’d never even seen before jogged over and physically lifted me on to it and then smiled at me as if he was so proud he’d done his good deed. I was furious that he’d invaded my space and touched me without my permission. Fortunately, before I could tell him so, a friend noticed my mood change and said he seemed to be genuinely trying to help and just got it very wrong.

Are there places, systems, or services you regularly find difficult to access?

Sadly, there are quite a few. I use a mobility scooter, as I find walking further than short distances causes me pain, and it can be a real challenge to have a space to park my scooter near a restaurant table, office desk or meeting room.

Then there’s counter heights; simply making myself a coffee or being able to take a coffee from a café counter has its challenges in most places. If I can access a café or kitchen area on my scooter, people are often really helpful; and although I’d rather just be independent, it does restore faith in humanity. However, when I’m on foot I find people are far more hesitant to offer help. I strongly suspect it’s because people don’t want to feel rude or patronising and just don’t have the confidence to approach me. Luckily for me, I have no issue asking for help when I need it. Although there was a time when someone, who no doubt thought he was being helpful, asked if I’d like him to lift me up so I could reach; I politely said, “no thank you, but if you could pass me a spoon that would be great”.

Another thing is hotels. I specifically book accessible hotel rooms, however in some countries what they consider to be accessible actually includes assisting you by having staff carry you up a short flight of stairs – not very dignified. No idea how they’d manage if my scooter wasn’t foldable, as my old standard one weighed a ton. Some accessible rooms also still have high beds and so I have to query the height before booking, which means dealing with the hotels directly even if I want to book through a booking site. It’s not the end of the world but can take quite some time, and when you have to speak to several hotels before you find one that can accommodate you it can feel exhausting and quite frustrating.
It does seem easier to check sizes of rooms however, and therefore by ensuring I book a room above a minimum size, I haven’t yet found any issue with accommodating my scooter.

The final area I’ll mention is public transport. I guess I’m lucky living where I do as the train services in and around Sydney are fully accessible for me; but when I go elsewhere, I usually find it’s a very different story.
I mentioned I love travelling and I particularly love cities with a lot of history, well that often means more buildings I can’t access or travel around. I think the world is starting to catch up, however with the age of infrastructure in some areas I expect it’ll be a long time before we see full accessibility.

Do you have the same accessibility challenges at home?

No, not at all. I bought an apartment that needed a lot of work and so I’ve made it really work for me. Among other things, I’ve fitted lowered counter tops, clothes rails, security locks and controls and I have a dedicated space for my scooter.

In my home office I use a height adjustable desk. I have found some so-called ergonomic chairs don’t have a low enough option to suit me and so I had to shop around for a chair that worked. I also use a short keyboard, without the number pad, so I can keep my mouse at less of a reach. Although I prefer using dictation and mainly control my laptop with my voice for research, creating articles, blogging and pretty much everything else.

If you could change just 2 things to improve accessibility, what would you start with?

Ah that is tough, but here goes. A personal bugbear of mine is having to ask for the key to an accessible toilet in a bar or restaurant. There must be better ways to encourage people who don’t need them to simply use the other facilities, without making someone who does need it to basically ask a member of staff for permission to pee.

I’d say my other priority would be clothing and shoes. I love fashion, but shopping for clothes has actually made me cry more than once. I have to try everything on and majority of what I like doesn’t come in a size to fit me. I can buy some things from the junior section of some stores, but I don’t want to wear clothes or shoes designed for children.  There are many people who can’t wear what you may consider standard clothing and yet we’re only just seeing brands catch on to it. I hope in a few years to be able to go to the women’s section of any department store and purchase a closet full of clothes, shoes and the matching accessories. Although my closet isn’t short of accessories I have to say.

Probably a good call limiting me to 2 things, as I’m sure I could give you a list.

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