Draft Disability Inclusion Action Plan controversy

Gary BlaschkeGary Blaschke

Long term disability rights activist, Mr Gary Blaschke, has resigned from the Central Coast Council’s Disability Inclusion Reference Group, following his scathing criticism of the council’s draft Disability Inclusion Action Plan which is on public exhibition.
Mr Blaschke, who is National President of the Disabled Surfers Association, which regularly holds events for disabled surfers at Ocean Beach, said that under the 2014 legislation, all local government bodies were required to have a disability inclusion plan in place by July 1.
“Panic stations have hit the Central Coast Council,” Mr Blaschke said.
“Gosford Council had been working on the plan for 14 months prior to amalgamation, but Wyong were not even thinking about it,” he said.
He said at the first meeting of the Central Coast Disability Inclusion Reference Group, he had asked for a budget so audits could be carried out throughout the new LGA “to look at what we have got and what we need”.
“I was told instantly that it was all part of the normal process of council and that it would be under the operational budget.
“The panel just had to put forward the issues and convince the upcoming council that the issues had to be addressed.”
Mr Blaschke said he had already completed audits of Umina Beach and the Woy Woy tidal pool for Gosford Council “but I received no reply back from the actual audits that I sent them”.
Mr Blaschke said the Council appeared to be overlooking issues such as the size of its disabled access signs.
“People who are driving by who need to find a disabled toilet need signs that are big and clear enough so they can actually see it from the road, but such things are not understood, because people making the decisions don’t live disability.”
Before the draft plan was presented to Administrator, Mr Ian Reynolds, at the March Council meeting, Mr Blaschke said he was told the draft plan would be sent out to members of the Inclusion panel.
“The problem is that it has gone to council and the community for their input prior to this committee getting a copy or having a say in it.”
Mr Blaschke said he was also concerned that too little of the $9 million provided by the NSW Government for community projects as part of the council amalgamation had gone towards disability inclusion projects.
“I am all for building ramps at community halls, but a budget of $500,000 to upgrade community facilities. Well who came up with $500,000?
“I am concerned that whatever money is going to be allocated to it will be used to retrain council staff, but there has to be an outcome for the disabled.
“We need to do it from a passionate community perspective to allow local people and visitors to have a decent holiday to be able to get down onto the beach.”
Mr Reynolds said the draft plan on public exhibition outlines strategies and actions that Council will implement over a four year period, enabling people with a disability to better access services, facilities and support.
He said the draft Disability Inclusion Action Plan would see work undertaken across the community to improve accessibility.
“The plan will see Council make changes to internal process and practices; improving access to information, creating employment opportunities and supporting community activities for people living with a disability,” said Mr Reynolds.
“The development of this plan has been carried out in consultation with staff, residents, local organisations and our External Reference Group, providing informed and diverse insight into the actions and outcomes within the plan.
“This is a fantastic initiative that will go a long way to ensuring that the Central Coast is an inclusive and accessible community, and I’d like to congratulate everyone who has contributed to this project so far.”
In addition to the exhibition of the Disability Inclusion Action Plan, Council has recently allocated more than $1.3 million of Stronger Communities funding to disability access improvements in Council facilities and natural spaces across the Central Coast.
Group Leader of Connected Communities, Ms Julie Vaughan, said that outcomes within the plan would be incorporated into Council’s Integrated Planning and Reporting Framework.
“It’s important for us to be accountable for the actions in this plan, so residents can see what we’re doing to create liveable communities for everyone,” Ms Vaughan said.
“This plan, along with our accessibility projects, are a real illustration of Council’s commitment to leading the community on accessibility and inclusion.”
Copies of the Plan are available to view at Council’s Customer Service Centres and Libraries, or online at yourvoiceourcoast.com

Interview, 6 and 30 Mar,
Gary Blaschke, former member Central Coast Council Disability Inclusion Reference Group
Media release, 22 Mar
Ian Reynolds, Central Coast Council