Hey, it’s me down here

Though I knew it happened “in theory,” I’ve been surprised by the number of times people have spoken to my friend or support worker instead of me, now that I’m usually seated below regular line of sight in a wheelchair.

One of the worst spaces for being below the line of sight is the prescription counter of many pharmacies. They’ve been designed, I assume, with the pharmacist in a standing position behind the counter. Seated in a wheelchair, I’ve been far too low behind the counter to be able to easily get the attention of the staff.

And then sometimes when I have gained the attention of the staff member at the pharmacy, or elsewhere, the staff member has begun the conversation with my friend or support worker instead of me. “Actually, it’s me, down here, doing the transaction,” I’ve been half-tempted to say.

I don’t know how much this has to do with line of sight, or the idea that being in a wheelchair I may also have a degree of intellectual or cognitive disability that requires additional support.

Earlier in my condition, I was on some pretty serious pain relief, and prone to hallucination (which I’ve written about here https://jamesobrien.id.au/2023/07/psychedelic/). And an early diagnosis of my condition suggested the possibility of serious brain damage. Thank goodness, that didn’t occur, and I’m (arguably) just as smart (and feisty) as I was six months ago.

As I have planned trips out and about, I have often used Google Maps to assess wheelchair accessibility. I discovered this a few months ago, while still in hospital, and I was looking for somewhere for a haircut. Of all the hairdressers I looked at in the Darlinghurst area, most had at least one or two steps at the front door. Thanks to Google Maps, I discovered Oxford Barber (on the corner of Crown and Oxford Street) was the most wheelchair friendly. On entering, the barber told me he already had a number of customers in wheelchairs. “The word must be out you have a good, accessible shop,” I told him.

Using Google Street Views on Google Maps to determine easy to enter barber shops.
Using Google Maps, here is another barber shop in Darlinghurst with a more difficult entry.

Although public attention on accessibility in shops often focuses on a wheelchair entrance, another issue to consider is what happens inside. Are the aisles wide enough for wheelchairs, for example? Are there lots of boxes on the floor?

As much as I love Chemist Warehouse, I’ve found the aisles are very narrow and often difficult to negotiate in a wheelchair. On top of that, I’ve found there are often lots of boxes on the floor, with goods waiting to be shelved. A tip? Make sure you don’t have too many boxes on the floor.

While the front door of cafes and restaurants can often be wheelchair friendly, I’ve often found it difficult to negotiate a clear path to a table, because the furniture is so tightly packed together. A tip? Have a table, near the door, that has a little more room around it to accommodate people who might need a bigger turning circle, because they’re in a wheelchair.

Quite often, Google Maps/Street View will allow you to actually go inside shops to check out things like turning room around the aisles.

Awesome wheelchair friendly entry, and a barber with a number of wheelchair clients.

“I knew all this stuff in theory,” I told a few colleagues who also live with disability recently, “but it hasn’t been until I’ve had this lived experience that it’s all made sense.” They’ve smiled in recognition.

Post Script

I shared this story with friends on Facebook and had a very strong response.

They sometimes treat people who are disabled like little children but we’ve got to stand up for ourselves

Person with disability

Well, I’m not glad you’ve got a disability but I’m glad we have someone so articulate and, to use your word, feisty, as an advocate. Its a horror to be honest and I recently threw my toys out of the pram in a big way over here demanding to know what a particular cinema chain thought they had been doing for the last 30 years since our disability legislation came in. I wasn’t polite at all. Im just exhausted at making the same point over and over for decade after decade. You’ve taught me something today about being constructive so I thank you for that. Though I’ll probably be back to being a screaming quren tomorrow. Much respect mate.

Person with disability

Yep they’re definitely thinking you’have a cognitive disability because you’re in a wheelchair and you have a person with you.
Like they think all older people are deaf and raise their voices at them.
Hope you keep blogging about these issues.
I often find myself nodding my head in agreement. As I did only today when you wrote about the table and chairs layout situation.
Another bugbear is the amount of people who don’t put their chair back in in when they vacant the spot,leaving it in in the path.
Good tip about street view I must make more use of it.I’m often interested in the terrain getting to a place.

Person With Disability

Very well expressed James. As a carer of a stroke survivor, I’ve noticed people addressing me rather than Alex. I always steer them straight.
JB HiFi is also very dangerous for wheelchairs.
And not every accessible cafe/restaurant/bar have sensible accessible toilets. For example, Alex’s building only has one public accessible bathroom- it’s on the 1st floor in the Carpark, And the door is so heavy that he can’t open it on his own. So if he visits the restaurant he goes home if he needs the loo. The ‘normal’ toilets are on the same floor as the restaurant. A lot of places just don’t accommodate their disabled customers.
Thanks for the tip about the barber, it’s in his neighbourhood.


Yes they used to talk to me, as carer, instead of my parents. it’s so rude! You are still 100% smart and feisty. so many hurdles… I think the Chem Warehouse at Newtown has a bit more space between aisles. Maybe get a little flag to hold up to wave and get attention. So frustrating…


I’ve especially become aware over the past few years with Mum more and more wheelchair bound and me pushing. It annoys me that she (and all mobility impaired people) cannot go to certain places, like South Head and around Watson’s Bay. No . Access. Period. Mobile people just take it for granted and don’t care.
The disabled should have a powerful lobby like the First Nation activists and the LBQT lobby.Who is campaigning for equality for disabled people? People like Clover Moore seem more interested in bike riders.


I learned many similar things when I became a parent and had to contend with pram/stroller accessibility. It’s so obvious in hindsight but I’m now seeing accessibility hazards literally EVERYWHERE I go. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve moved someone’s dumped rubbish (sometimes mattresses) off the footpath to clear access… it’s astonishing how little thought is given to this given the number of mobility scooters, prams, strollers, wheelchairs, young kids on bikes/scooters, etc that you see around.


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4 thoughts on “Hey, it’s me down here

  1. Interesting. I started to notice accessibility as my mother aged and in her town, it was quite good. I can’t say the same for where I live and visit locally within my villages. There are steps to many shops and I certainly get your point about CW. I can remember shop customers in ‘chairs outside giving a wave to the shopkeeper, indicating a help over a step to get into a shop and the shopkeeper obliged. Not ideal but nice.

    I think with CW it is line of sight but the talking to the wrong person is simply wrong and I am surprised. It reminds me of when I went with a rich young Asian guy who was going to spend a lot of money on a watch at a jewellery store and the staff kept addressing me, who had nothing to do with it. Wrong assumptions were made.

    It is so much a case of walk a mile in my shoes and most architects don’t and nor do fit young people who are responsible for planning.

    PS I rather like the pics at the Oxford Barber’s Insta.

  2. Chemist Warehouse is hard enough to navigate on two feet, often have to swap backwards and forwards between aisles to get from the front to the back of the shop, and I haven’t found the staff very obliging – thanks for sharing your journey

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