Appointments to Surf Coast Shire Council’s AAAC

Courtney Griffin.jpg

Surf Coast Shire Council’s All Abilities Advisory Committee (AAAC) has appointed four new members for a three-year term.

Since 2002, the AAAC has advised Council on improving access and inclusion outcomes for people with disability and their carers across the Surf Coast Shire.

An expression of interest process for new members commenced in June 2020 after a number of positions recently became vacant.

There were 24 applicants with Courtney Griffin, Kate Toholka, and Lauren Smith, from Torquay, and Thomas Byrnes from Deans Marsh chosen as the successful candidates.

New members were selected on their lived experience, a high level of understanding and passion to improve access and inclusion issues for people with a disability on the Surf Coast, and a strong connection to the Shire.

AAAC co-chair, and committee member of 18 years Richard Porter, said it’s always a positive to get new members, ensuring “greater representation” across the Surf Coast Shire.

“It was really important for us to get representation from people living with a disability. We’ve always had a mix of people on the committee, but we wanted lived experience.”

“It means new faces, new ideas, and new thoughts. Walking down the street is not easy for some individuals and they share those experiences with the committee.”

“Our role is about access for all: young, old, able-bodied, and those with a disability, our goal is to make life more accessible for everyone on the Surf Coast.”

For Courtney, 35, a social worker who lives with Multiple Sclerosis, joining the AAAC is about sharing her experiences and facilitating “greater understanding” in the community through awareness.

“I live with a disability and wanted to have peer input. I think there can be improvements, disabled parking is great but sometimes the parking space is a long way from the shops.”

“I want to create awareness around things like footpaths and curbs (I use a motorised scooter, walking stick, and walker), and opening and closing doors, things able-bodied people don’t need to worry about.”

“Disabilities aren’t just physical. It’s about generating mindfulness of all abilities living in the community and catering to that. I want to bring forward and share things I experience daily.”

Mr Porter said each new member has experience with a disability or caring for someone with a disability and is passionate about advocating for accessibility and inclusion:

– Kate Toholka works at the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) as a business analyst and lives with profound hearing loss, wearing hearing aids since childhood

– Lauren Smith, an oncology nurse at Epworth hospital, is a carer to her son who has Autism, she’s the founder of Surf Coast Autism Group, a local support group for carers of children with Autism; and

– Thomas Byrnes is studying Auslan and has an interest in IT and climate change, he has lived experience of neurodiversity but doesn’t believe in stereotyping.

The AAAC is made up of community members, representatives from service organisations, Council officers, and a Councillor representative that meets six times per year.

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