They got mad because they were asked to use an unsafe, terrible ramp (at a brand new restaurant called 'Petition') to get to the accessible toilet.
You can read about that here.
Petition has been built as part of a larger refurbishment, one that cost 108 million dollars. After the blog was published, a City of Perth Councillor told us that actually, there was an accessible toilet.
It just wasn't easy to get to, and it was a shame nobody was directed there, he said.
He pointed out that it was a heritage listed building, that getting upset was a bit 'silly' and that the developers had gone to great expense to install lifts.
We thought we'd go and see for ourselves.
Jackie, Tom and I set out for lunch at Petition. This what happened.
11.45am: We arrive at the Kings car park and make our way down to St George's Terrace. The City of Perth councillor has told us that there are lifts on the Terrace, and we're keen to check them out for ourselves.
We get to the building. There are shop signs that advertise the shops that are presumably accessible below, but the railing is at exactly at my eye height - I can't see them at all. There's nothing else to tell me that this isn't just any old government building.
We reach the first lift, and after much pressing of buttons (there are only three, but it's not clear how they work) the lift starts rising to the street level.
There's a small, weird little sign that neither of us have ever seen before. It says, 'limited mobility access'. We're not sure what that means - I'm guessing that they don't want to use the word 'disability'.
Image description - Lift buttons which direct people up and down. The third is a red knob. Beneath the knob are the words 'limited mobility access' with an image of a wheelchair (universal access symbol). Second image - a glass door beside the lift buttons. The lift is a platform lift that is open to the elements.
11.50am: Jackie wanders down the stairs and says that the shops are shut. She points out the writing on the door - small, all in capitals, black. Hard to read. I peer over the edge and notice that there are no tactile ground surface indicators on the top of the stairs - the stairs are steep and a little roll over the edge would not be fun. Fortunately, the blind people will be able to notice that there's an impending hazard AFTER they've fallen down the stairs, because there is a neat, compliant row at the bottom.
We notice that someone has gone to the trouble to 'antique' the down pipe. And the non compliant handrails.
Image description - A steep flight of stairs. At the bottom is a row of shiny TGSIs. At the top, there is nothing.
The shops are shut downstairs, and the second lift doesn't work at all. We don't know if it is broken or turned off. I look at the small catchment down the bottom and wonder if I would ever use this lift. Clearly, I'm not going to be using it on a Sunday.
Second image - Stencilled letters which read 'opening hours, Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm. Saturday 10am to 4pm.
Image description: The second lift has a 'limited mobility access' sticker on it. The first has been peeled off.
12.00pm - We get to Petition and are confronted by an imposing flight of stairs. Fortunately, there is a small, easily recognisable blue sign with a wheelchair and an arrow. We follow it.
When we get to the next arrow, we gasp.
Now we know why there were no TGSIs at the top of the frighteningly steep staircase. They'd used them all on the bizarre feature pictured - a strange, graduating, double step that is confusingly lined with double roles of TGSIs. At the bottom, at the top almost everywhere. It is a glorious TGSI overdose. It looks like the architect has eaten TGSIs and vomited them over the oddly shaped steps.
The steps, which terminate near the rise, do not comply with the access regulations about minimum luminous contrast. That is a technical terms that means, 'Paint that dangerous edge shit in different colours so that the folks with low vision, the drunk folks and the old folks can see it and so that they don't break their necks'. It's a rule, and it wasn't followed - there is a clear trip hazard that's going to make someone's life interesting when they file the first law suit.
Here's a picture from another angle. It clearly shows how dangerous this two step access nightmare is.
Here are Tom and I. The top 'path' is where I've wandered along in my wheelchair. TGSIs are hated but tolerated by most wheelchair users, but we usually just encounter small rows of them before hazards and we know that the blind folk need them. This - well, in order to access the restaurant, I can either find out that there's a long way, or go down along the TGSIs in a bumpy three metre ride to the restaurant, castors turning, voice bouncing like it did when we were little kids going down a gravel road in the car.
The edge is frighteningly close to the edge of my chair and I wonder how close it would be for a person with a big, electric wheelchair.
We enter, and the staff rush to the door to open it. We kind of suspect that after the flurry of social media the night before, they've been expecting a call.
12.10pm - We enjoy a leisurely lunch and enjoy the great peach bellinis. What Petition lack in access, they make up for in food - Jackie has something with eleventy billion shades of mushroom, and Tom and I feast on the very good cheeseburgers. The wine list is a bit overpriced, but it's not the house red, so bellinis it is.
We notice that the good customer service extends to Tom, who doesn't use a lot of spoken language and who has Down syndrome. He's offered a menu, called sir, and generally treated as you'd expect to be treated. This is part of good access, so we mentally note it.
When it's time to go, we wonder whether to casually ask to use the toilet or call over the staff member and let him know why we are there. We're pretty sure they already know, so we decide on the second. The staff member is personable, friendly and truthful - all qualities we very much appreciate.
'What would happen, then, if I wanted to go to the toilet now?' I asked after our conversation about the ramp finished.
He hesitated. 'I would have to take you.' I make a face and ask him when the last time it was that HE was taken to the toilet.
I often ask, he tells us, but that's different from being 'taken'. He gets it. 'I should have said 'escorted',' he says, and I launch into a completely unnecessary discussion about how it feels to be 'taken' or 'escorted' to a toilet and to know that you have to hurry up and not pee loudly. Poor guy.
We thank him, because Petition's access aside, it was a good experience. As tenants, they have specific restrictions - for example, they cannot hang anything on the wall.
2.30pm - We decide to wander through the rest of the State Buildings, curious to see if the dodgy access extends to the rest of the place - and interested to know how easy the toilet was to find without being 'escorted'.
And this is what we found.
Here's the - I am assuming - Chinese restaurant, which is inaccessible to me on a Sunday because the lift is not in use and the outside doors are locked.
Image description - a flight of stairs lead to a lit up sign that reads, 'Long Chim'.
Here's the toilet? See it? No? Neither could we. That tiny light box on the right hand side was a clever interior designer's idea of wayfaring - it's a backlit laser etched piece of metal with a discreet 'restrooms' embossed upon it. To the right, in that little alcove, is the actual toilet. There's no way to find it or see it unless you're directed there - 'taken to the toilet', I guess.
The accessible toilet had a staff member in it, getting changed. We'll assume that in four years time, it will be filled with cleaning products because it is 'never used'.
Image description - a long hallway with a flight of stairs at the end. Women stand at the top of the stairs. A sign that says 'Petition' stands in the hallway. Some entries branch off the hallway. A small light box is visible.
Here's a closer view of the laser etched light box. The only way you can read it, really, is by standing in front of it. And to do that, you'll first need to know that it's a sign - not a light - and you'll, secondly, have to be able to find it.
We stumbled across the lift to the hotel completely by accident. Despite the plethora of 'other kit' that was printed in vinyl on the walls - those 'essential' items like fire extinguisher signs - and lights and fire sprinklers and fittings that were fitted to the new ceilings, it seemed that the designers were loathe to install anything that could actually be used to find your way around the building. In, or in case of a fire, out - something you'd think would be a fairly obvious consideration.
2.50pm - Before leaving, we bought some products from some of the lovely little shops in the building. Not the shop that Jackie described caustically as providing 'white dresses for thin people', nor the Argyle diamond shop. But upon chatting with one of the vendors, we realised that the issues of lack of universal access were not restricted to being a disability issue. 'I have to bring stock in,' said one vendor, 'And I am by myself and often have to leave it outside on the pavement, because I have to lug it up the stairs.'
How to solve these issues? Well, they're pretty obvious. Involve disabled people at all stages of a building or refit. It's far, far cheaper to get us involved as access auditors and/or advisory group members or as folks who have both lived and professional expertise than have some disabled person die in a fire, crash off an inaccessible step or sue a business for poor access. It's also cheaper than than trying to stock an empty white elephant of a building with viable businesses - on the day that we visited, the place should have been a hive of activity, not a ghost town.
Ensure that those 'last minute' access modifications are actually checked during big fitouts and constructs - the installations of TGSIs, for example, are rarely checked. The accessibility flaws to these premises should never have been approved.
The many wheelchair users who were directed to use an unsafe ramp were just as discriminated against as if there had been no accessible bathroom at all, and this is important to note. If the end result is that you are treated less favourably than your able bodied equivalent - in this case, that you cannot piss - then you've been discriminated against, unless the discriminator can prove that they couldn't afford to treat you equitably.
The questions to be answered in finding whether there is indirect discrimination are:
- was a condition or requirement imposed;
- was the person with a disability able to comply with it; and
- was it reasonable.
Good as the peach bellinis were - I won't be going back.