Parliament: Interesting Speeches

European Transport Services

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: During the winter break from parliament I conducted a study tour to Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom to research disability services, policy and legislation. I also visited all the parliaments of these countries and had meetings about other issues relating to my parliamentary work, including chronic pain management programs and sex worker laws in Sweden.

There are many things for me to report back to the parliament on and to address the work that I do here in the chamber advocating for people with disabilities and my broader constituency. However, for today I would like to speak on the transport services, including aviation and airlines, which I encountered and experienced as a wheelchair user in these places.

Firstly, I have to say that I was impressed with all the airlines we travelled with. Of particular note was the special assistance centre in the Frankfurt Airport in Germany and the fact that each of the other European airports I visited—Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and London—all had special assistance teams who seemed to be employed by the airport rather than the airline. Actually, they had the same thing in Singapore, too.

A specialist assistance team of two people would meet me at the gate and then assist me with my transfer from my wheelchair to the aisle chair, onto the plane and onto my seat on board. These people were all trained in appropriate lifting techniques and went about their job efficiently and professionally. I have not seen such a thing here in Australia, and where there is assistance they are never prepared to actually lift me. I am not sure whether this is a lack of training, a fear of litigation or a combination of these two factors, but my contrasting European experience has certainly made me wonder why a similar service does not seem to be provided here in South Australia.

In Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, I was impressed again by the accessibility of its transport system and the extraordinary use of bikes by its broader population. It seems that one in three people in this city ride to work, school or higher education each day. This is in a city that has much colder and wetter weather than Adelaide. Their summer weather is much like Adelaide in September.

Their traffic light signals are even designed to favour pedestrians and bicycles rather than cars. Bike lanes are everywhere. I was able to use public transport to get to meetings as all their train stations have lifts to the platform and all their buses have ramps. They also have clear announcements on trains in both Danish and English for the vision impaired. The transport services in Oslo, Norway and Stockholm, Sweden mirrored the favourable experience I had in Copenhagen.

The airport train services in both cities had seatbelts that secured my wheelchair and the wheelchairs of other travellers, and the staff were always willing to help me get on and off the trains—and also those who had prams. I noted that the public provision of bike pumps in the streets of downtown Oslo encouraged bike users and the fact that, similar to Denmark, Oslo and Stockholm have a higher use of bicycles despite climates you would think would encourage people to use cars.

The thing about Scandinavia that struck me most was that it seemed that everyone had thought about who would actually be using their services, building or transport before they actually designed and built it. Will a wheelchair user access this? Will someone with a pram need to get in here? Would it be helpful if we had a ramp for the elderly or mobility impaired? The principles of universal design are definitely reflected here. It is certainly not perfect, but the fact that I could access the Norwegian parliament through the same entry and exit as everyone else during a heavy renovation period was a revelation to me and something certainly not reflected in this building.

Time does not permit me to go on any further, but this certainly was an experience I enjoyed very much, and I look forward to working very hard to ensure that our transport and building systems are made equally successful here in South Australia.