Focus on access for all people of all abilities

WELLINGTON Shire’s new cultural hub will be accessible to all members of the community, thanks to the work of a local group.

The Wellington Access and Inclusion Advisory Group meets each month to discuss issues facing local people with disabilities and solutions for problems.

Made up of people with disabilities, carers, advocates, representatives from community groups and services, Wellington Shire Council co-ordinators and at least one councillor, as well as interested community members, the group provides strategic policy advice to the council, via the RuralAccess representative.

James Griffiths joined the group about three years ago, and is currently chairman.

He said many people with disabilities were out there getting involved.

“We do contribute and we do change things,” he said.

“I’m also an indigenous peer for Vision Australia — just because I’m blind, doesn’t mean I don’t give back to the community.”

A focus for the group has been employment, which Mr Griffiths says is a central issue.

“Employment for people with disabilities is very important, and one of my biggest things is the way it affects self esteem,” he said.

“When you find a job you love, you get out of the house, you feel better, you feel wanted.”

Wellington Shire Council is leading the way, and has several initiatives designed to help people with disabilities find employment.

“Council runs job shadow days, one day a year, where people with disabilities follow council workers around, to see what people do, in all sorts of areas,” said Mr Griffiths.

“The shire is also a great employer of people with disabilities.”

Wellington Shire mayor Darren McCubbin said  the new cultural hub will contribute to this.

“The Port of Sale Cultural Hub will have a social enterprise cafe where new jobs will be created for trained, career-ready members of our community who will also benefit from the accessible and universally inclusive building design,” he said.

“Council is currently in discussions with the George Gray Centre about the future running of the cultural hub café.”

Cr McCubbin said the hub had been designed with input from the advisory group, and incorporated an open plan design for simple way-finding, audio and visual digital informational screens, access to lifts, colours to assist identification of facilities, altered bus routes and increased parking, with staff and volunteers operating throughout public areas to help visitors.

Mr Griffiths said council has been receptive to ideas.

“The new cultural hub, for example, we’ve been putting ideas through to the steering group, which one of our members is in,” he said.

“Their input goes through to the designers and architects.”

Other projects completed with the advisory group’s input include advising on access to Aqua Energy, the Gippsland Regional Sports Complex and Wellington Entertainment Centre, as well as development of communication access resources, mobility maps and public transport advocacy.

Social Inclusion Week was an especially successful project, which engaged people from across the community in social events, sporting activities, and cultural performances.

“Being out and about is great — you’re visible, and it’s good to make new friends,” Mr Griffiths said.

“People without disabilities meet people who do have disabilities, and they realise, beyond the external, on the inside, where people think, there’s a lot of really good ideas.

“We get out and show people we can still do things, and experience things, and enjoy life.”

But more always needs to be done, and Wellington Shire has high aspirations. 

“Access is more than just ramps, lifts and accessible toilets,” Mr McCubbin said.

“Almost 20 per cent of the Australian population have one or more disabilities, so it makes sense for our businesses to be accessible for everyone. 

“Our Aqua Energy facility recently was the first business in Wellington to receive the Access Communication accreditation.

“Businesses who provide easy access and friendly staff will attract all people, including people with disability.”

Mr Griffiths agrees, and said if anything the council should aim higher.

“I think if we can make Wellington Shire the most accessible in the state, that’ll be good for tourism.

“People can stop here because there are facilities, that makes things easier for any sort of people,” he said.

A key part of this is the function of RuralAccess, which is the council’s facilitator for inclusion and access.

Mr Griffiths would like to especially thank Leanne Wishart, the RuralAccess co-ordinator, for her help.

RuralAccess’s priorities include informing the community about issues that people with disabilities face, supporting care and service providers, and helping people and organisations work together more effectively.

“People of all abilities contribute to society in different ways, and it is very important that our whole community remembers this,” Cr McCubbin said.

“One of our key visions for Wellington 2030 is for Wellington to be a safe and healthy community where everyone feels they are valued, supported and have the opportunity to participate.”

Mr Griffiths wants to go one step further, and said that people ultimately need to be more compassionate.

“The invisible disabilities, where there are no obvious signs, the people who look “normal”; everyone just doesn’t know, and they shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” he said.

“If everyone would be more understanding, that would be excellent, in not just seeing the difficulties or disabilities, but getting to know somebody.”