By Martin Stewart and Angela Jaeschke
If you subscribe to Blind Citizens Australia’s email lists, you should have heard of a significant advocacy win for Leonie Barber, and for Queenslanders who are blind or vision impaired who wish to apply for the Australian Disability Parking Permit.
The journey to this victory was a long one, and as is often the case, involved a lot of hard work from a range of people and organisations.
BCA acknowledges that there have been differing views within our membership as to whether people who are blind or vision impaired should be eligible for a parking permit. Following significant feedback and a request to reconsider this issue, the National Policy Council developed a new position statement, which was approved by the board in November 2018. This position statement outlined BCA’s position that people who are blind or vision impaired should have the choice to access accessible parking, and to encourage consistency across Australia in eligibility and conditions of use.
Through our consultation on this matter, the main concerns that members raised were in relation to safety in carparks. With the increased prevalence of hybrid and electric vehicles, it is more difficult to hear and identify vehicles moving in carparks, especially when they are travelling at slow speed. Concerns were also raised regarding the extra space required when travelling with dog guides, as well as those travelling with children and with mobility aids.
Leonie Barber, a long-time member who lives in Far North Queensland, contacted BCA in mid-2019, outlining her frustrations in accessing a parking permit. Leonie raised concerns in safely navigating carparks in her local area, for her and her dog guide. In preparing to apply for a disability parking permit, Leonie contacted BCA’s advocacy team, where Martin Stewart worked with Leonie throughout the process.
With Leonie confidently leading her self-advocacy efforts, Martin supported the process along the way. Martin made contact with the major state political parties in Queensland to garner support, leading to promotion of the issue through local ABC radio and TV. This showed a true partnership, with the combined efforts and a lot of hard work eventually getting results.
The long-term campaigning efforts of Guide Dogs Queensland were a crucial part of this work. They researched the topic, undertook surveys and shared their findings with government and others in decision-making positions, which helped raise awareness of this important issue and contributed to a successful outcome.
Blindness and vision impairment are not among the eligibility criteria for the parking permit in Queensland. But Leonie decided she would make an application regardless, to highlight the accessibility issues she experienced in carparks, and how a parking permit would promote safety and accessibility for her. When the initial application was not approved, Leonie decided to further her case by reviewing the decision through the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
BCA supported her choice, acknowledging that this would be a difficult procedure, but had the potential to make lasting change. Throughout the process, it was found that many of the review forms and government communications were inaccessible, which prompted another level of advocacy in ensuring Leonie and others could access information independently.
After months of hard work and Leonie’s unending energy, Queensland’s Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Mark Bailey, announced on ABC radio at the end of November 2019, in Leonie’s presence, that the government would change their legislation to allow people who are blind or vision impaired to apply for the Australian Disability Parking Permit. The process of amending the legislation will happen in early 2020, and people who are blind or vision impaired will be able to apply for an Australian Disability Parking Permit from July 2020.
This is an example of how self-advocacy, with some support, coordinated in a cohesive campaign, can lead to positive outcomes for individuals, as well as for the broader community. These outcomes at a state government level can also leverage change and consistency in other Australian states. Through individual advocacy support, as well as through our local branches, BCA will continue to work with members and the broader community to promote accessibility for people who are blind or vision impaired.