Mid Coast roads much worse for wheelchair passengers

Ready for a drive: John's wheelchair is firmly strapped to four points of his special-purpose van.
Ready for a drive: John's wheelchair is firmly strapped to four points of his special-purpose van.

If you think our roads are bad, sitting in the comfort of your car, you should experience it from a wheelchair strapped into a van.

After reading Jack Noble’s story in the Manning River Times on Friday, May 11, Wingham resident and quadriplegic, John Green invited me to experience how much worse it feels in a wheelchair.

So, sitting in a push chair strapped into the van, behind John’s own motorised wheelchair, I went for a short ride in Wingham – from Murray Road, down the main street, around Central Park on to Bungay Road up to the hospital, down Moon Street, then back to Murray Road.

I was asked to keep my arms crossed on my chest so I didn’t automatically try to grab on to something to steady myself, as John himself cannot do that – he has very limited movement and his hands cannot grasp anything. I also tried to keep myself as ‘loose’ as possible.

Still, there is no way I could get the full experience. Many disabled people in wheelchairs have no core strength in their stomach muscles. During the ride, I found myself unconsciously using my stomach muscles in an attempt to stabilise myself. John is unable to do so.

The bumps in the road are magnified immensely. Turning corners or roundabouts could be terrifying, if you didn’t have a driver experienced in driving wheelchair passengers. 

John travels from his home to Wingham Hospital twice a week for hydrotherapy. He travels to Taree four times a week. He echo’s Jack Noble’s assertion that Victoria Street near the Blue Cross Church is one of the worst roads to travel on.

“For me, that bit of road is worse than being in the surf and being twisted up. I used to use a surf ski, and I’ve been twisted up in what we used to call the washing machine under the waves - you didn’t know where you were,” John said.

Although John is a quadriplegic, he still feels pain. A drive on our roads, for him, can be painful and exhausting.

I’m getting swung about, and hitting the sides of the wheelchair.

John Green

“It hurts! I’m paralysed, but I’ve got muscle feeling - I feel myself getting chucked about. I can feel pain,” he said.

Yet he realises just how much better off he is than other disabled people.

“Jack has a very bad disability. He’s very small and very frail. I want to do this because I want to back him up,” John said.

“I’m only speaking up because the young Noble boy spoke up about how bad it is on our roads. Unless you experience it in a wheelchair, you don’t know what it is like. The patch jobs are the worst - if you feel them constantly from here to Taree, you’re buggered. You think, ‘that was a bloody effort, from here to Taree’.

“I don’t know if the council men have been in a wheelchair and gone for a drive around the local area – if they did I’d love them to come from TAFE down Victoria Street and see what it feels like for themselves. To see what we actually go through in a wheelchair.

“That’s all I can stress - if they knew how it felt they’d be trying to do something.”

John also has a plea for other motorists using the road – please be patient.

“People get right up your arse, or if you slow down they beep at you, and things like that. People are impatient. And we’re driving slow for a reason. I’ve got a bit sticker on the back to say there’s a wheelchair in there.”