Councillors and community concerned with disability access

Walking around the town of Naracoorte as an able-bodied person, it can be easy to ignore things such as sloping footpaths or sharp ramps.

But for Margaret Donaghue, who has spent time in a wheelchair and now crutches due to injuries, these are issues which have affected her mobility to the point where she once found herself fallen, with no way to get up unassisted, in traffic.

“My husband had dropped me off, and I was crossing towards Trev’s,” began Margaret, who was in a wheelchair at the time.

“I went to go up the ramp, and I ended up on the ground. The slope was too much for me to propel my wheelchair (up it).”

Thankfully a kind man stopped his car and helped Margaret onto the footpath, as she was laying in the road and panicking that she could be hit by a car.

“The slopes need to be looked at,” insists Margaret. The angle of the footpaths means that they often tilt towards the parked cars, with Robertson Street, the section of McRae Street near Trev’s Bargain Emporium and BankSA, and Ormerod Street being identified by Margaret as key problem areas.

Margaret can’t go up the ramp to the Kincraig Plaza on Robertson Street without assistance, and when heading west along Ormerod Street, the ground tilts southward. 

But it’s Smith Street where a lot of improvements could be made, says Margaret. 

“Near the NAB Bank, that roundabout – I’ve seen cars whiz around that roundabout, and I’m surprised that someone hasn’t been hit yet. Especially if they come from Ormerod Street, you struggle to see them coming.

“With older people crossing the street, they need to slow down. There needs to be something there, like a speed bump.”

Margaret also takes issue with the placement of the pedestrian crossings and their proximity to the disabled car park near the Town Hall.

“It’s stupid,” she said bluntly.

“They need to walk all the way to the crossing opposite the pharmacy, or they need to go all the way down to the crossing near the bakery.

“We need another crossing.”

A crossing opposite the Town Hall was proposed, due to its centrality, and also because the Town Hall is a venue accessed by a multitude of people within the community.

The Naracoorte Lucindale Council is currently in the process of creating disability access and inclusion plans, after the Disability Inclusion Act (2018) was passed and became operational on July 1 2018.

Under the Act the council must make sure that people with disabilities can access supports or services provided by, or on behalf of the council. They also need to include strategies to support people with disabilities via the following key areas:

  • Access to built environs, events and facilities;
  • Access to information and communications;
  • Addressing the specific needs of people with disability in its programs and services;
  • And in its employment.

Margaret has spoken with elected members of the council about the issues facing the elderly and people with disabilities in Naracoorte.

“You just don’t think about it unless you’re in a wheelchair, or you’re in crutches. It really gives you another perspective of what other people go through.”

The Naracoorte Lucindale Council is also creating a Disability Inclusion Working Group. The working group will assist council in enacting the strategies listed above, and will have seven members.

There are two elected members (Cr Ken Schultz and Cr Derek James) already in the group, and up to five community members will be elected. At least one person with a disability must be included in the group, and one person who represents the interests of people with disabilities.

Cr Schultz is determined to make sure that the town is more accessible to those with a disability and the elderly.

“I’m prepared to go to parliament to do something about it,” he stated. 

“I was talking to an older lady with a walker, who’s visually impaired. She’s scared of trucks when she tries to cross the street. It’s scary.”

Cr Schultz pointed out that multiple crossings on a highway have worked – New Zealand has frequent light crossings, and Katherine in the Northern Territory has frequent zebra crossings. In each scenario, there was little disruption to the traffic flow, and pedestrians could efficiently get to their destination.

“Three years I’ve been on the case to get a lights crossing,” said Cr Schultz. 

“Or to get a zebra crossing.”

Cr Schultz is keenly aware of accessibility not only because of what constituents have confided in him, but because of his own age group.

“This will be my last term – I’ll be 78 when I finish it. I’m scheduled in for another knee construction, and then that will mean a cane and all that stuff.”

Cr Schultz is strongly encouraging the senior citizens of the Naracoorte Lucindale district – or anyone who cares about the issue of accessibility – to write into the council in order to get a push towards more action.

“The footpaths around here are disgusting. And the ramps are far too steep. You go to other towns and cities and they’ve got beautiful ramps. They’re much longer, and less steep. What’s wrong with Naracoorte? Why can’t we get it right?”

There are currently council plans to fix the footpath at McRae Street near BankSA and Trev’s Bargain Emporium. 

As for the roundabout, due to the larger trucks that will soon be going down the highway, it’s planned to be “built back to the bricks.”

“But I’ve talked to the truckies, and they’re willing to slow down. If it’s for the safety of pedestrians. That should be a 25km zone (in the roundabout).”

Regarding the placement of a crossing, Cr Schultz would prefer to see a crossing which stretched across the two main streets which had in close proximity Carter’s Foodland, the public toilets, the ANZ, Morris Bakery and the pharmacies, as these are places where senior citizens are likely to go. 

“If you sit out the bakery shop, you see a lot of older people try to cross. You don’t think about it when you’re young, and fit.”

Cr James, the second elected member on the Disability Inclusion Working Group, has extensive experience in working with disability services and community health within the Department of Human Services. This work has included installing automatic doors for private residences for those with restricted mobility, and also ramps which are up to industry standard.

“Due to my work I have a good understanding of regulations, and that’s how I feel I can contribute to the group.”

Cr James explained that due to only starting his term, he is currently researching what the issues are, and what has been done previously. 

“Ken is good at hearing what the community wants – my own point of view is to see the information first.”

For more information on the Disability Inclusion Working Group you can call the Naracoorte Lucindale Council on 08 8760 1100 and the next meeting is on January 22 at 5pm.