Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Access and Inclusion

Weston-Super-Mare, UK

I've just spent the day with a community organisation that oversees a range of community and health services from a purpose-built centre in the heart of a high-deprivation housing estate.  I went there because I wanted to see what impact this sort of investment has in the lives of local people, including people living with disability.

The first thing I noticed was the building's general feeling of accessibility.  It felt good, with a wide entrance that led straight into a light-filled area that had a general reception, a GP surgery reception, a community library entrance, and a cafe.  I liked this space - it felt welcoming and inclusive.

I walked through the building and discovered a lot of good community resources - meeting rooms and so on - including one space that doubles as the local church on sundays.  And the building was REALLY well used.  There were people everywhere, including people living with disability, busy and involved.

In terms of physical access, there was good flat access and reasonable doorways. All that said, when you scratch beneath the surface, the accessibility isn't quite as good as one might hope, and this is instructive for anyone building such places.  The accessible toilet had a heavy door that opened outwards manually.  Indeed the only non-manual doors were the automatic double-doors at the entrance. Light switches and power outlets tended to be the regular size (small) rather than the larger buttons that work better for everyone. Fortunately, these issues are fixable, and will help improve and consolidate what is already a good building.

At JFA we've taken an interest in issues around accessing primary healthcare, so I had a quick look at this here.  From some rudimentary inquiries, I gained the impression that the GP practice has some of the same access challenges as primary healthcare in Australia, with question marks over the availability of height-adjustable examination tables, and also the knowledge carried by GPs and practice support staff about the particular healthcare considerations associated with certain types of disability.

Overall, I really liked the entire enterprise.  As I mentioned before, the centre serves a community that doesn't have much.  There is high unemployment, the housing is poor, education outcomes are modest, and there are family and neighbourhood issues that attract the ongoing attention of the authorities. So it's not an easy gig.  And yet, in its four and a half years of operation, the centre has yet to be graffitied or vandalised, and the same is true of the adjoining outside playground that the centre also installed.  This suggests there is a critical sense of ownership by the local community.

And people living with disability?  They're right there, part of the whole thing, local citizens using the space along with everyone else.  This suggests to me that when you invest in communities and are mindful of the needs of all local citizens, then this is the true foundation for natural inclusion, and can bring success even in the most challenging of circumstances.

This is important because, while disability support funding is a very important consideration in people's lives, it takes placed in the context of community.  If we don't develop structures and habits of inclusion in our wider communities, then no amount of disability support funding will get people all the way to a good life.

So while we must all continue to push for a fairer system of disability support funding, we also need to push for community investment that will help access and inclusion. 

No comments:

Post a Comment