Disabled man fights for change
LIFE has been a battle for Maryborough native Alan Pailthorpe since a degenerative muscle disease left him a paraplegic with his 30th birthday looming.
He embraced the challenge from an early staging, playing a key role in the Maryborough Access Advisory Group through the early 1990s and designing traffic innovations which improved the lives of the wheelchair-bound in the city centre.
But almost two decades later and the battle continues for the 55-year-old now resident in Point Vernon.
“Attitudes have never changed and never will.
“Maryborough hasn't progressed. The funding never seems to have come through. But Hervey Bay is still a long way behind.
“Hervey Bay is for motor scooters and electrical chairs. The focus is on the aged, not the disabled. It's shocking.”
There is more than a hint of frustration in his voice as he relays the most recent incident of discrimination when a Bay shop owner refused to move signage outside his business to allow Mr Pailthorpe access.
“We tried to work out the best way in,” he shakes his head.
“But I'm regarded as a lowly pensioner with no money to spend. I'm made feel unworthy to be a customer in some shops.”
Car park ramps, steep and sudden drops off street footpaths, a lack of hoists at medical centres – day to day life is anything but easy.
“Discrimination is such a huge issue and one that disabled people have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
“We did not choose to live with these issues; they have been dealt to us in unfortunate circumstances such as genetics, disease or accidents.
“It's not hard for attitudes to change. It can be simple to change.
“I understand that everywhere and everyone cannot cater for wheelchair users, but sometimes it's impossible.
“It shouldn't be like this. It's just unfair. It's not right.”
Putting it right was the aim of the Maryborough Access Advisory Group at its prime but with time and his move to Toogoom first and later Hervey Bay, Mr Pailthorpe sometimes lost his zest for the fight.
His zest for life was reinvigorated by marriage to Sharynne last year and by the therapeutic enjoyment wrought from polishing rough stones to create smooth, shiny jewels. He displays a tray of opals with pride.
“I do as much as I can but the pain is constant.”
He is not always as happy putting his life and soul into the hands of support workers where control is wrestled away and a kind of vulnerability rules.
“People talk to the other person, not the person in the wheelchair.
“What hope have people with disabilities?”