Disabled in a disaster? Just wait until we've helped all the real people, all right?

Lauredhel had a post a few days ago noting the plight of a quadriplegic man abandoned while the ablebodied passengers were evacuated during the train breakdown on the Sydney Harbour Bridge recently and told he would be evacuated “in two or three days”. (Luckily nearby construction workers showed some initiative and rescued him using a forklift.)

Apparently this was not just a regrettable lapse or someone’s wires getting crossed about emergency procedure, it’s standard operating procedure for CityRail: CityRail’s new generation of passenger carriages have been designed with no facility for evacuating wheelchairs at all.

A CityRail spokeswoman confirmed last night wheelchair passengers would not be able to access the evacuation ramps and must wait for a stretcher in an emergency on the new public-private partnership-funded trains.

The Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association of NSW and Spinal Cord Injuries Australia fear the system will place wheelchair passengers at greater risk than able-bodied passengers.

They are worried that disabled travellers would be forgotten in a terrorist incident like the July bombings of the London Underground.

ParaQuad spokeswoman Deborah Schofield said evacuating wheelchair passengers from the side of the train posed a problem inside tunnels.

ParaQuad has urged CityRail to direct its private sector partner, Reliance Rail – a consortium that includes Downer EDI, ABN Amro and John Holland – back to the drawing board.

“It seems at this stage RailCorp and EDI have no idea how to get wheelchair users off trains in the event of an emergency,” Ms Schofield said.

How on earth can a commuter transport company in the 21st century not make adequate provision for emergency evacuation of passengers in wheelchairs? This is people’s lives at stake, not just our society’s general casual negligence of making life unnecessarily difficult for the disabled.

Why is it that whenever I hear of public infrastructure fiascos involving incompetence wrapped up in heartlessness I am not surprised that a private-public partnership bottom line is the slimy centre of the package?


writer, singer, webwrangler, blogger, comedy tragic | about.me/vivsmythe

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Posted in Disability, Disasters, Transport
11 comments on “Disabled in a disaster? Just wait until we've helped all the real people, all right?
  1. Kim says:

    Thanks for the post, Viv. Whether or not train stations (particularly underground ones) as well as trains are easily evacuable is a big issue. A recent bomb scare at the very busy Brunswick St station in Bris showed it was not – and the State gov’t has been very slow to move on station redesign and renovation.

    This is something I’m obviously very personally concerned by – as an above knee amputee, who with the best prosthetic leg in the world is still less mobile than many folks, and who may end up in a wheel chair when I’m old(er).

  2. Kim says:

    Perhaps CityRail were thinking the issue could be solved by loud denunciations of terrorism rather than practical action? 😉

  3. tigtog says:

    That must be it, Kim!

    I’m also dismayed that the 000 emergency services just handed Macauley off back to Cityrail’s utterly inadequate emergency procedures, even when he told them that he needed medication urgently. That doesn’t seem to be being examined anywhere that I’ve noticed yet.

  4. Kim says:

    It’s a real worry, tigtog. We’ve read enough about the indifference of city folks to obvious suffering in public places (and I always think back to what happened to Aunty Delmae Burton last year after she suffered a stroke and was left unaided on a busy bus station for four hours, but there are other instances – someone who collapsed at peak hour at Brisbane Central and no one bothered to phone an ambulance or seek help) but you would hope emergency services and staff would be minimally competent to deal with… emergencies.

  5. tigtog says:

    It hadn’t struck me until now, but considering that several someones in a CityRail uniform must have been coordinating the evacuation, why didn’t someone in a CityRail uniform stay with Macauley until he could be evacuated? Since when is it OK to leave him alone considering that They. Were. Right. There?

  6. Daniel says:

    More practical caring would be welcome for those who aren’t able bodied!

  7. tigtog says:

    Thanks, steve.

    I’m going to reproduce a comment from another blog discussion of this issue because it sums up the issues so well (the text in italics is from a comment of mine that this is responding to):

    L and I were discussing this earlier – I suspect if I’d been on that train and people in uniforms with walkie-talkies told me to get off and they were walking around the disabled person, my first assumption wouldn’t be that the disabled person would subsequently be abandoned.

    Absolutely. I didn’t mean to lift an ounce off the shoulders of The Authorities and place it on the fellow passengers. What I’m suggesting is that when the People In Uniforms With Walkie-Talkies (PIUWWT) make the evacuation announcement, they should add/have added “the evacuation ramps cannot accommodate wheelchairs, so please assist disabled passengers in any way you can.”

    I don’t have a rosy view of human nature, but I’m not jaded enough to believe that out of a hundred people on a train you couldn’t find four to help carry a helpless man to safety. I know I wouldn’t hesitate. The World Trade Center is a case in point — plenty of people were ready, willing and able to help once they realized they oughta.

    I’d go a step further and say that every train, if not every car, should have a stretcher, or a litter, or a damn sedan chair — something to evacuate disabled passengers. A few hours’ training, and all the PIUWWT would be prepared to assist in an evacuation or direct volunteers. It’s no excuse for not building things right in the first place, but it’s something that could be in place in a matter of weeks at minimal cost while they figure out a permanent expensive fix.

    I’d expect the uniformed people with walkie-talkies to At The Very Fucking Least assign one of their number to stay with him until he was evacuated.

    Certainly. Maybe not if there was a raging fire, but at the very least someone should have been there to shuttle back and forth with food, water and medication. The account of McCauley’s ordeal has me scratching my head — there are procedures to lift an injured fisherman from a ship at sea in a typhoon faster than that.

    Bolded emphasis on the last line mine.

  8. Kara says:

    I think the “oversight” of planning for us in these situations relates to the stone age idea of “survival of the fittest”….always amuses me though because put many of us in a unique situation where we don’t have the average things most AB’s take for granted and we’re often MORE adaptable-so obviously the theory doesn’t always hold!
    Wish this topic generated more buzz so that plans could be put in place.

  9. melaleuca says:

    Personally, I never leave home without my pogo stick. Comes in handy when a quick exit is called for.

  10. Horrifying. There but for the grace of god(s), go I (instead I’m a member of the limping but walking wounded)

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