Reflection on Council's changing approach to access and inclusion

Table of contents

1. Pedestrian mobility and transport

1.1 Walking, wheeling and driving safely around Brisbane

1.2 Catching public transport

2. Planning, development and infrastructure

2.1 Being actively engaged in planning an accessible city

2.2 Enjoying a well-designed built environment

2.3 Appreciating the benefits of civic infrastructure

3. Public buildings, venues and outdoor spaces

3.1 Public buildings that make you feel welcome

3.2 People friendly public spaces

3.3 Local meeting places where you can connect with your community

3.4 Parks and natural areas where you enjoy the great outdoors

4.Vibrant, informed and caring communities

4.1 Experiencing the support of inclusive, safe and diverse communities

4.2 Enjoying Brisbane's vibrant arts and culture scene

4.3 Staying active and healthy

4.4 Using libraries for lifelong learning

4.5 Adopting a more sustainable lifestyle

5. Your Council, working with you

5.1 Being an active citizen in an inclusive democracy

5.2 Having a say on the work we do that matters to you

5.3 Communicating and doing business with us

5.4 Understanding how local laws, rules and procedures relate to you

5.5 Keeping Brisbane clean, recycling waste and breathing clean air

5.6 Working in a disability confident organisation

5.7 Knowing your rates are paying for accessible services

John MacPherson started his working life with Brisbane City Council as a 17 year old junior clerk in the Works Department in 1976. He has been the Disability Partnerships Officer since 1990. He reflects on the changes he has seen.

Council's engagement with disability-related matters has evolved over time. Our emphasis has steadily moved from concentrating on 'hard' issues such as the built environment and public transport vehicles to the 'soft' infrastructure of community engagement, online systems and employment policy. Over the years, many parts of Council have done a lot of very good work. There are many dedicated and determined staff throughout the organisation who have seized the initiative and quietly led the way in their own field. Consequently, much of the good practice for which Council is renowned goes beyond the minimal requirements of legislative compliance. It is simply good public servants seeking to deliver the best possible customer service to Brisbane's residents and visitors including those who happen to have disabilities.

In 2011, we find ourselves in the situation where Brisbane's status as a new world city and the increasing expectation that people have for their inclusion in the life of the city demand ever more sophisticated initiatives in existing and emerging fields. This Brisbane Access and Inclusion Plan will for the first time provide a single, cohesive framework for a wide range of initiatives across the organisation.

1990s: From ad hoc reactions to city-wide strategic responses

Prior to 1990, most Council reactions to requests for disability access were ad hoc problem solving rather than coordinated initiatives. While locally effective, these were of little strategic value. This changed in 1992 when Brisbane's Urban Renewal Taskforce commissioned a study of the New Farm and Fortitude Valley precincts focusing on how residents with a disability coped with the antiquated infrastructure, unsuitable housing and the impact of rapid development. This provided the impetus for updated technical specifications for infrastructure (Council Standard UMS Drawings) and a dedicated Works Schedule 51 for the city-wide upgrade of kerb ramps. Schedule 51 was our first city-wide, strategic response to an identified access issue and has a lasting legacy in improved accessibility of street crossings.

From the late 1990s, Suburban Centre Improvement Projects (SCIP) and other urban renewal programs have revitalised suburban areas. As part of the process, pedestrian infrastructure has been upgraded to the latest technical specifications wherever practicable, meaning a far more accessible environment for all the public.

In the mid 1990s, Council began taking on more of a role in developing community cohesion, resilience and capacity through libraries, local planning, community development, community arts and other community focused programs. Increasingly assertive following their major court victories against the Queensland and South Australian governments, people with a disability expected to be included in this expanded service delivery. Council responded by designing programs that were deliberately inclusive of a much greater range of people. Libraries in particular greatly increased the range and type of product on offer to the public.

Early 2000s: Strategic responses to prescribed disability standards

Following conciliation in the Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland in 1993, Council adopted a policy of only acquiring low floor buses and accessible CityCat ferries and upgrading bus stops and ferry terminals. This initiative put us in a good position when, in 2002, the Commonwealth Government established Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport (DSAPT), setting milestone dates for compliance. Because of its early start and strict procurement policy, Council's bus and ferry fleets are well ahead of schedule, and infrastructure such as bus stops and ferry terminals are on target for 55% compliance in December 2012.

Since 2004, Council premises have been constructed to the draft of the Disability (Access to Premises - Buildings) Standards enacted by the Commonwealth in 2010. This has 'future proofed' Council premises constructed since 2004 for no real added project cost. Existing premises are another matter, unfortunately. Work has been undertaken since the mid 1990s to upgrade public buildings, community halls, swimming pools and libraries in particular, but many of these structures are heritage listed.

2002: Award-winning equity and diversity employment initiatives

The Reasonable Adjustment Procedure and associated Recruitment and Selection Procedure have given Council an enviable record as an employer of people with a disability. In fact, Council won the Prime Minister's Disability Award in 2003. Council's Equity and Diversity Framework 2011-2015 will ensure the organisation remains an Employer of Choice for people from diverse backgrounds including, of course, people with a disability.

2005: Keeping pace with changing technologies

Globally, information and business technologies have developed rapidly in the first decade of the 21st century and, by the middle of the decade, Council was retrofitting newly purchased systems for accessibility and finding little scope for modification. This remained the case until 2009 when Council undertook to develop an access and inclusion policy that would drive information technology purchasing and product development.

This development and the establishment of a Web Accessibility Working Group in response to a public complaint about inaccessible documents, has led to electronic workplaces and public online environments that are far more accessible. In 2009, Customer Services branch commissioned Vision Australia to assess and recommend changes to Council's website to enhance access by people who use assistive software. This reflects another shift where Council is increasingly working in partnership alongside key stakeholder groups.

2009: Universal accessibility

Led by the recommendations of the Lord Mayor's Taskforce into Retirement and Aged Care, the emphasis in 2011 has shifted to universal design so that physical environments, services and programs are designed in such a way that everyone finds them easy to access and use. This will have significant benefits for people with a disability, older people, parents with young children and for the wider community, avoiding the unnecessary costs of retrofitting premises and systems.

This is a long way from the early 1990s when we saw access and inclusion as a matter of tailor-making a particular ad hoc solution for a particular situation or circumstance. The emphasis in universal design is to plan it well, get it right so it works for everyone everywhere, then make it the design standard that is rolled out by a whole range of providers.

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Last updated:30 April 2019