It seems the need for all councils in NSW to have a Disability Inclusion Action Plan is starting to have an effect. As part of the plan councils have to be informed by an access and inclusion committee made up of residents, usually with a disability. And now the message is getting through according to an article on the ABC website. Some councillors are taking to the streets in wheelchairs, and with glasses that mimic low vision. This moves council staff from the “tick the box” compliance list to better understanding why certain features and design details are needed. For example, why benches for sitting are no good unless they have backrests and armrests, and why footpaths need to be continuous and not just end suddenly so that you are left walking on grass. The other message from these committees is that accessibility is everyone’s business, not just the ageing and disability coordinator.
Emily Steel has written a thoughtful piece about how the thrust of Australia’s National Disability Strategy is languishing while everyone focuses on one small part of it – the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). She argues that the NDIS runs the risk of further marginalising people because it is still treating people with disability as needing special (that is, separate non-mainstream) treatment. This is where the concepts of universal design come to the fore. Yes, some people will need specialised equipment as part of experiencing inclusion, but that equipment doesn’t make for inclusion unless the person can use the equipment to merge into the mainstream. For example, a person with paraplegia needs both a wheelchair and a step-free entry to buildings. One is no good without the other. The good thing is that a step-free entry is good for everyone – inclusive universal design. Only a small percentage of people with disability will qualify for the NDIS and this is also why we need universal design – for everyone, including people with and without NDIS packages. See Emily’s article for some good points on this issue. Emily will be speaking at the 3rd Australian Universal Design Conference. She is Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Wellbeing at University of Southern Queensland.