Diving in to more accessible and inclusive community

Former Paralympian Elle Steele will feature in Council's IWD short film.jpg

Anglesea resident Elle Steele knows the importance of a well-connected community, where people of all abilities can participate.

"Access to much-loved spots is essential for both community members and visitors, to ensure equality and to ensure that as we all get older, we can continue to thrive in the local community," she said.

It's why Surf Coast Shire Council's Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) Program is vital, as it means people with a disability have equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to community life.

Ms Steele is a 2000 Paralympian swimmer who feels most at home in the water, whether that be the ocean or pool. She welcomed the changes being made locally to foster a more accessible and inclusive community.

"It's wonderful to see access to the beaches becoming a priority, and also community venues," she said. "Disability can happen at any age, so we may as well make everything accessible for everyone now."

A 2020 building accessibility audit of the top 20 most-used spaces across the shire has enabled Council to prioritise various DDA projects, including upgrades at five facilities - Anglesea Community House, Bob Pettitt Recreation Reserve in Jan Juc, Globe Theatre in Winchelsea, Lorne Community Connect and Moriac Community Hall.

Wider doors, accessible door knobs and updated braille signage have been installed, along with luminance contrast which assists people who have vision impairment to easily find access points. At Lorne Community Connect the ambulant toilet has been upgraded, making it more accessible for people including those with a disability, carers, and people with mobility aids such as walking frames and crutches.

Projects planned for this financial year include:

• a new ramp at Anglesea Community House;

• accessibility improvements to the Price Street community precinct in Torquay;

• seeking certification of Changing Places facilities - for people with high physical support needs - at Kurrambee Myaring Community Centre and Wurdi Baierr Stadium in North Torquay so they can feature on a national map; and

• an audit of all accessible car parking on Council-managed property to understand if there is a sufficient number and appropriately positioned parking spaces.

Councillor Gary Allen highlighted an upcoming project at Lorne Community Connect.

"The venue is a big hall with a stage, where a range of community gatherings are held," Cr Allen said. "A hearing augmentation system will be installed, so that people who are hearing impaired can use a bluetooth lanyard which connects to their hearing aids, so sound can be delivered. The Council is exploring this at other spaces in the shire where events are held, replacing the hearing loop systems that are currently used."

Cr Allen said the DDA program was more than ensuring the Council is compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act.

"While ticking off the compliance requirements is important, we also understand that access continues to evolve," he said. "This program takes it a step further by gaining insights from people with lived experience of disability, and using their personal experiences to help create fit-for-purpose facilities that are easy to use."

The DDA program aligns with Council's commitment to access and inclusion for all, to build healthy, well-connected communities where everyone can participate. To help achieve this, a 2022 International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) campaign is underway. It features a social media series on Council's channels (@SurfCoastShireCouncil) highlighting accessible and inclusive resources, businesses and venues across the Surf Coast, in the lead-up to IDPwD on 3 December.

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