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Council called out over disability access

Council called out over disability access
Mark Somerville says it should not be up to staff to enforce disabled only changing rooms but people taking responsibility for their own actions. SUPPLIED

The council is letting down the disabled community, advocate Mark Somerville says.

The issue has come to the fore again recently after the Ashburton District Council decided to make only one of the pool-side changing rooms at EA Networks Centre exclusive to disabled use.

“I still can’t understand why we couldn’t have had both changing rooms kept for disability use," Somerville said.

“It’s extremely frustrating. The council is not disabled friendly.

“The disabled community aren’t the ones going around breaking bottles or causing trouble. They are getting very little for their rates.”

Somerville, who had a son with cerebral palsy, has been engaging with the council over better disability access long before EA Networks Centre was even built.

His son died in 2015 but he has continued to be an advocate.

Council argued it couldn't make the changing rooms exclusively available to disabled users because staff couldn’t enforce it.

However, Somerville said that was absolute nonsense.

“Why should they? It has nothing to do with the staff.

“If people with a disability need to use the accessible changing rooms they do so, and if not you use the main changing rooms.

“It shouldn’t take staff to tell people they can or can’t use it.”

It’s up to the individual as a matter of social responsibility and respect for other people, he said.

The diversity of disabilities and the number of hidden disabilities means the need for the disabled changing room as a safe space is a must, Somerville said.

Council’s people and facilities group manager Sarah Mosley said they rely on users to report to staff if there are any behaviours at the facility that aren’t in line with public expectations around respect.

“Given that it is not possible to know who has a disability or not, this can’t be done in regards to use of the change/bathroom.”

Councillor Richard Wilson was opposed to making any of the changing rooms exclusive use, suggesting “one of the biggest problems at a pool is code browns and you want as many toilets open to all people as possible".

Somerville struggled to understand the suggestion it was a convenience factor for avoiding code browns.

“I can’t get my head around the idea that having a toilet next to the pool will stop the amount of poo being dropped in the pool."

“It’s so sad people are so lazy," he said, referring to people parking in disability carparks.

The poolside changing rooms have bathroom facilities, and therefore are used by people mid-swim for a short duration,  Mosley said.

But she said there have been no reported issues of people with disabilities having an unacceptable wait for a changing room.

As well as the two-pool side changing rooms the aquatic centre has two accessible changing rooms, two family, and the two main changing rooms at the entrance.

Only one of those, the pool-side room with the hoist, is now disabled access only after the council's decision last week.

Disability access has been an issue at the EA Networks Centre since it opened without adequate consideration, Somerville said.

“The level of equipment and placement by the council to begin with had us on the back foot from the start.”

He worked with the council in 2016 to try to put things right, securing external funding for the hoist in the changing room, but said he was disappointed the changing rooms weren’t made exclusive to disabled at the same time.

Making one changing room dedicated to those with a disability was another step and Somerville was grateful to the councillors who supported it.

The council is open to working on improving accessibility, Mosley said.

“Where there is evidence that the current situation is not working for the members of our community that have disabilities, council will always consider if and how they can remedy the situation to improve accessibility.”

READ MORE: Change room access splits councillors

By Jonathan Leask