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Should children with disability be able to catch the bus with their friends? And how long should it take till school buses are made accessible – ten years? Twenty? Thirty?

Well according to the Australian Government’s recent report on the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport, the accessibility of school buses is not a priority. The Report backs away from previous recommendations that school buses should be made to comply (albeit by 2044!) citing advice that the existing arrangements adequately provide for the transport needs of students with disability.

This is one of several disappointing aspects of the 2012 Review Report, which is now open for public comment. Submissions close Monday 14 July.

Ten years after the introduction of the Disability Standards, the Report assesses how accessible public transport systems are to people with disability, and makes recommendations aimed at improving the Standards.

While public transport has become much more accessible in recent years, some aspects of the Standards are now out-of-date; not least of these being the exemptions that apply to dedicated school buses and to community transport.

Also of major concern is the absence of mechanisms that would allow for proper enforcement of the standards. Information about whether or not a public transport operator is complying can be hard to find, yet the Standards rely on individual complaints to address non-compliance. And for an individual considering whether or not to pursue a complaint, the lack of information is only one of many deterrents – the process can be stressful, time-consuming and is a potentially costly proposition.

While the Report does acknowledge these issues, the recommendations it makes are vague, and it is not clear who will be held accountable for progressing them. Given that similar proposals were made following the 2007 Review – but that little progress has since been made – the lack of clarity does not inspire confidence that improvements will be forth-coming.

Meanwhile, children with disability continue to be segregated from their classmates each day they travel to or from school, and each time there is an excursion or a camp.

But if planning for change starts now – and if we start sending clear messages to transport operators and bus manufacturers – there’ll come a time when there will be no such thing as an inaccessible bus. And this should happen well before 2044!