SOUTH Gippsland Shire Council is making good progress on its Disability Action Plan. The most recent status report shows Council has taken some significant steps towards achieving the stated objective of disability awareness becoming “second nature, not a second thought”.
A Disability Action Plan (DAP) is mandated by the Disability Act 2006 for all public sector bodies. According to the Act, the plan must:
- Reduce barriers to persons with a disability accessing goods, services and facilities;
- Reduce barriers to persons with a disability obtaining and maintaining employment;
- Promote inclusion and participation in the community of persons with a disability;
- Achieve tangible changes in attitudes and practices which discriminate against persons with a disability.
Rural Access Project Officer Marge Arnup, along with Blair Donaldson and Darren Bone, who are on Council’s Access and Inclusion Advisory Committee, recently reported back to Council regarding progress on the DAP.
Ms Arnup said that disabilities can be lifelong or temporary and many, such as mental illness, are not visible. She said that with statistics showing that one in five people has a disability, as many as 5500 residents of South Gippsland could be affected. “We’re supporting a lot more people than we realise with this plan,” she pointed out. She also pointed out the disappointing statistics which show that fewer than 40 per cent of people with disabilities are in employment.
“We want to reduce the barriers to community life and employment,” she said.
Implementation of the DAP has involved close collaboration by staff across Council and regular participation by a wide range of community organisations and agencies with an interest in improving access and participation by people with disability. Council’s Access and Inclusion Advisory Committee has provided input to assist staff with implementation of the plan. Key successes already include:
- Access appraisals at nine council recreational facilities, including Foster Lookout and Foster Showgrounds, with opportunities for improving access identified for implementation;
- ‘Companion Card’ available events and services supported by Council and other organisations, enabling the carer of someone with a disability to attend at no cost;
- Accessible Tourism Facilities Brochure developed in partnership with tourism bodies;
- Tradies and Renovators Guide produced to assist people renovating buildings to improve accessibility;
- Disability Awareness training provided for staff, councillors and council volunteers;
- Shadow Day 2014, enabling people with a disability to work with council staff for a day;
- Travel Squad project, which has established a team of volunteers to support people with access or mobility issues to use public transport;
- Provision of 12 small grants to community groups and businesses to help them improve access to their activities/services (e.g. grant for a ramp into Bromley’s Cafe on Main in Foster);
- Improvements to accessibility made at a range of council owned and community owned public facilities, including council parks, gardens and public toilets;
- Successful integration of the biennial Achievement Awards for People with a Disability with the existing annual council sponsored Australia Day awards.
- Areas which require further attention include:
- Completing an audit of accessible parking provision;
- Improving the accessibility of council documents through use of alternative formats (this is addressed as part of the development of Council’s new website);
- Assisting community organisations when planning events to improve accessibility;
- Increasing opportunities for people with disability to participate in planning and running community events;
- Improved information for new council staff and volunteers on access and inclusion barriers and opportunities.
The DAP Status Report points out that Council provides a range of services specific to the needs of people with disabilities, their families and carers. Among them are: disabled persons parking permits; all terrain wheelchair available for loan for use on rail trails and other walking tracks; mobility matting to assist in ease of walking and wheelchair use on unstable ground; community transport; Home and Community Care support services; hearing augmentation; and mobility maps outlining accessible paths of travel, accessible parking and toilets.
Council staff will continue to implement the 2013/16 Disability Action Plan, and will provide a report to Council at the end of 2016 on all achievements against the plan and areas still requiring attention. A new DAP will be developed during 2016 for implementation from 2017 to 2021.