Ben Hill is a reporter for The New Zealand Herald

Disabled community isolated by lack of representation

Auckland Council disability advisory panel member Colleen Brown says more needs to be done to cater for the city's disabled population.
Auckland Council disability advisory panel member Colleen Brown says more needs to be done to cater for the city's disabled population.

Losing a leg to cancer as an 11-year-old wasn't enough to put Katrina Bungard off from standing up for others.

The Howick Local Board member had her left leg amputated above the knee due to bone cancer, and uses an artificial limb.

She told the Herald overcoming the devastating disease at such a young age gave her the drive to represent others who are disadvantaged.

"It changes you, you don't look at things like a carefree teenager who is just going with the flow. You think what am I here for and what am I going to do with my life.

"It certainly made me more determined to do the things I wanted to.

"I think that it's fair to say when any major health incident happens in someone's life you become acutely aware of the public health system and the issues around it."

A dearth of disabled candidates running for local body positions meant their concerns weren't being effectively handled, according to Bungard.

"We need to make sure we're engaging with the disabled community because isolation is a huge issue, which can lead to all sorts of other issues, including depression, family violence and other anti-social behaviour."

She said accessibility issues were always a problem for disabled people and even new facilities didn't always meet requirements.

"Minimum building requirements to meet accessibility aren't ideal, they're a minimum and they often just meet that minimum.

"We need to build to a more ideal level, it's an area that is lacking not just in council facilities but all facilities. We need to facilitate independent living.

"There's room for improvement in council facilities, many are outdated and more rigorous audits are needed."

Bungard said the blueprint for the city's development - the Unitary Plan - doesn't necessarily pose a hindrance to the disabled community, despite its emphasis on compact living and taller buildings.

"It doesn't have to be an issue, good design is good design. There's no problem with building higher buildings as long as they're accessible buildings.

"A big problem I've found as an amputee is surface quality ... the flooring might be made to look nice but it can be hard to walk on, so as long as apartment buildings have adequate lifts and people can get up and down, particularly with newer modern buildings."

A disability advisory panel appointed by the mayor exists to support Auckland Council with support on disability issues.

Bungard said the establishment of the panel was "great", but it could be working more effectively with the governing body.

Colleen Brown is a member of the advisory panel, and said there needs to be a change in attitude amongst the community in regards to disabled issues.

"No one talks about [the disabled community], there needs to be more awareness out there."

She is pleased with the panel's work, but said it was sometimes hard to communicate with council-controlled organisations such as Auckland Transport.

Ezekiel Robson is running for a spot on the Manurewa Local Board and has a vision impairment.

He is part of a group called My Voice Matters, which aims to make disabled people more engaged in local body elections.

"It's important work, 20 per cent identify as being disabled and there are barriers to the equal political participation for that 20 per cent.

"It's quite alarming there are not many candidates standing on disability rights platforms."

Robson said his disability will have no impact on his ability to serve constituents should he be elected, and he would use a tablet to enlarge council documents in order to read them.

- NZ Herald

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