by Tricia Malowney OAM, Chief Accessibility Advocate, Victorian Department of Transport

The Victorian Government is working to ensure our public transport network is inclusive and accessible for all Victorians. The beauty of making transport accessible to people with disabilities is that it has benefits for the whole community – older Victorians, parents with prams, and anyone who has a temporary injury or who is recovering from illness.

On 1 November 2021, I was appointed the Chief Accessibility Advocate to the Victorian Department of Transport. As a Victorian with a disability, I am deeply honoured to take up this appointment.

I am here to support the Department of Transport and everyone who is interested in improving the lives of my community, whether they be staff developing projects or writing policy, people with disabilities, other interested community members, or organisations and staff who have disabilities.

This is a new and innovative appointment as I am the first Victorian Chief Accessibility Advocate for transport.

My role is to support the Department of Transport’s coordinated, whole-of-transport approach to accessibility, delivering better outcomes for all Victorians with disabilities, no matter where they live or how they choose to travel.

Accessible transport is essential, whether we live in the city, in the outer suburbs or in rural communities.

My responsibilities include:

  • Providing strategic advice and updates to the Secretary and DOT Senior Leadership on the delivery of accessible and inclusive transport services, and providing regular updates to the Transport Ministers
  • Monitoring the implementation of DoT’s plans to improve access and inclusion (including the Accessible Public Transport in Victoria Action Plan 2020-2024)
  • Leading collaborative partnerships to amplify the voices of people with disability and be part of DoT’s decision-making process in our accessibility programs
  • Participate in a range of committees, forums, and working groups to ensure accessibility objectives are promoted, understood, and are appropriately considered in transport planning and decision-making
  • Ensuring the Department is taking a coordinated whole-of-transport approach to building accessibility into its policies and projects

I take a human rights approach to disability inclusion – I firmly believe that if you are funded to provide services to Victorians, that means all of us, not just those to whom it is easy to provide services. As well as various pieces of Australian legislation, Australia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (the Convention).

Article nine of the Convention requires that people with disabilities have the accessibility necessary to live independently. In relation to transport, this requires: “…the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:

a. Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces.”

A leading voice

I contracted polio at the age of four months, so I have had a disability for most of my life. I have a paralysed left leg and use a C-Brace orthotic and crutches which enable me to continue walking, but I am also a wheelchair user from time to time.

When I have used public transport, I have used a mobility scooter, so I am very familiar with the physical barriers faced. I also have many friends who are deaf, blind, have cognitive impairments, or who are autistic, so they will keep me informed – just as my elderly parents keep me up to date with how accessible transport is…or is not!

I am a senior member of the Disability Leadership Institute and a member of the NDIS Independent Advisory Council, the Victorian NDIS Community Advisory Council and Fire Rescue Victoria Strategic Advisory Committee.

I am a Board Director at Melba Services and at he Urgent Action Fund for Women Asia Pacific Australia. I was awarded the Medal in the Order of Australia in 2017 for my advocacy work for women with disabilities and I was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2013.

Benefits of a more connected community

There are significant economic and social benefits to Victoria from more accessible transport – if I can get to school, college or university, I can get an education that will enable me to seek employment.

If transport is accessible, I can get to work and contribute to the economic benefit of Victoria, paying my way and ensuring my continued independence.

We all know that COVID-19 restrictions have caused a downturn in the hospitality sector, but imagine if my community could travel easily into the city for much needed social interaction – to see a show, share a meal or hang out with friends.

Transport has an impact on every aspect of our lives and involves every journey, from the time we leave home until we reach our destination and return. This will include trams, trains, buses, commercial passenger vehicles, ports and roads, as well as how we access the various forms of transport, footpaths, infrastructure, train and tram stations, and methods of communication.

All of us need to connect with the community and that includes people with disabilities. Without accessible transport, we cannot connect to the things that all of us consider essential in a civilized society.

We are not only talking about catching public transport, but also the end-to-end journeys that enable our citizenship rights. I am not here to represent the disability community, I am here to ensure that issues are able to be raised, whether it is a physical barrier, an unfair policy, or attitudinal barrier which prevents full inclusion.

There are many assumptions made about people with disabilities and I am very aware of the ableist world in which we live. Just about every person can tell you of being spoken down to or ignored because our legs don’t work or we don’t communicate like others, of being spoken to loudly because we are blind or deaf, or having people feel sorry for us.

We want to be included in the social and economic life of Victoria alongside everyone else. The change that accessible transport can bring is immeasurable. I look forward to helping to deliver change, drive solutions and identifying how we can make our transport network better for all Victorians.

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