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Change room access splits councillors

Change room access splits councillors
New signage will be intalled to indicate exclusive use to those with a disability at one of the poolside change rooms at Ashburton's EA Networks Centre, despite staff having no ability to enforce it. SUPPLIED

A changing room will be exclusively designated for disabled pool users at the EA Networks Centre in Ashburton.

But whether it can actually be enforced - and therefore have a positive impact - has been questioned by the council.

The decision to provide one accessible changing room followed a request through a public submission.

Mark Somerville asked the council in December to consider making the poolside accessible change rooms solely for disabled people and their carers, following a previous submission in 2016.

EA Networks Centre aquatic centre has four disabled changing rooms available, including one with an electric hoist. The hoist was paid for by external funding sourced by Somerville.

However, unlike disabled car parks, there is no legislation enforcing who can use accessible changing rooms, only that they should be provided.

In a report recently presented to council, staff recommended not making any changes to the status quo - having both pool-side accessible rooms be open to all pool users.

But councillors decided to designate the changing room with the hoist to be exclusively for disabled use, in six votes to four.

As the motion was put forward for a vote, Ashburton Mayor Neil Brown pointed out “the staff don’t have any ability to enforce this, be aware of that”.

Councillor Richard Wilson said he was not opposed to accessible toilets, but was opposed to exclusive use of the changing rooms.

“One of the biggest problems at a pool is code browns and you want as many toilets open to all people as possible.

“I’d rather see them open to all.”

Councillor Leen Braam said it was out of respect to those with a disability in the community who may find it harder to access the pool.

Councillor Carolyn Cameron agreed, believing at least one dedicated room for people with disabilities “is the minimum we can do to ensure that our disabled community can access a publicly provided facility”.

“When you look at the footprint of the [aquatic centre], it’s not that vast that people can’t go to a bathroom further away.”

Councillor Tony Todd said he was sympathetic, but understand the inability of staff to enforce the toilet's use.

New signage will be installed to indicate exclusive use to those with a disability in one change room, but it won’t guarantee use of facilities.

People and facilities group manager Sarah Mosley said the number of disabled users at the pools was not monitored as staff couldn't always identify or determine if a person has a disability, with some disabilities not being visible.

This meant staff will not be able to enforce who is eligible to use the changing room.

Sport and recreation manager Richard Wood said he has never personally observed someone with a visible disability having to wait for a disabled change room.

The hoist cannot be used without staff “providing a piece of equipment”, Wood said.

By Jonathan Leask