Today we celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities which this year has the theme, Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.
The theme provides us with a great opportunity to reflect on the impact of COVID-19 on those living with disabilities in our communities, a community that makes up 25% of our population.
Photo: Auckland Council's Disability Advisory Panel members Gerard Martin (standing), Martine Abel Williamson, Renata Kotua, Jason Boberg, Ursula Thynne (standing), Kramer Hoeflich, Bonnie Robinson and Martine's guide dog Westin.
Auckland Council continues to play its part in trying to understand these impacts and learn how we can break down the barriers for those people in our communities who are impacted by disability whether it be visible or non-visible.
The council’s newly appointed Disability Advisory Panel has just concluded its second meeting of the new term with six new members and three returning from the previous term.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says the panel will play a vital role this term as the council continues to understand the broader impacts of COVID-19 and starts to rebuild.
“The disability advisory panel members have lived experience and professional expertise that provides us with the valuable insight we need to ensure that Tāmaki Makaurau is accessible for all," he says.
"They play an important role helping council to identify issues that are important to people with disabilities and effectively engage Aucklanders with disabilities."
The panel’s interim co-chair, Martine Abel Williamson said previous panels had made great progress in developing and supporting programmes for people with disabilities.
“Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and Panuku now all have plans in place to ensure that they are meeting the needs of disabled customers. Our role is to ensure that we keep the momentum going with these plans and help advise the council on how it can best meet its objectives,” says Martine.
A recent example of a plan being put into action was the redevelopment of Keith Park in Manurewa which was completed in February 2020 and is a public playground designed around accessibility needs for disabled children.
Image: Keith Park playground in Manurewa reopened in February 2020 after a major redevelopment to offer access to children of all abilities.
Interim co-chair Rachel Peterson, who was a member of the previous panel was particularly pleased to see progress in areas like improved access to public swimming pools and beaches, especially for wheelchair users.
“Playgrounds and leisure are a keen area of interest for some of our panel members – we want to see more initiatives like this so that parents with disabilities and children with different disabilities are able to participate and join in on all the fun as much as possible,” says Rachel.
Councillor Josephine Bartley has returned as the Disability Advisory Panel’s liaison councillor for another term and is excited to be working with another group of diverse and highly experienced panellists which includes members on international advisory networks.
“It’s a privilege to work alongside this remarkable and diverse group of people. After just two meetings it is already clear to see just how much energy and experience they will bring to their advisory role.
“I’m very much looking forward to supporting them and making sure our elected representatives have a good understanding of the needs of our disabled community in all the work we do,” says Cr Bartley.
Chief Liaison Councillor Cathy Casey commented, “Previous disability advisory panels have had a strong advocacy role in promoting universal design and championing the need for more accessible housing. We look forward to continuing that discussion and considering what else the council can do as well as how we can advocate and support central government legislative and regulative changes.”
Other key issues and opportunities which the panel are hoping to tackle this term include climate change and its impact on those with disabilities. They are also keen to consider how technology can be better utilised to make it easier for disabled people to be able to work and participate in community and civic activities.