26 Aug 2015

Anger at cutting of 'vital' disability roles

1:48 pm on 26 August 2015

Members of the disability community are angry at an Auckland Council decision to cut two full-time disability advisers.

As part of a restructuring, the council's two specialist advisers will finish work at the end of September.

Council chief executive Stephen Town told a review committee hearing this morning the reshuffle was part of a push to improve services and create universal access.

But disability community representative Lorrie Mackness told the committee she relied on personal contact with the advisers for problems she faced in her daily life.

She said there was no way other experts who were not from her community would understand her grievances.

But Auckland Council chief operating officer Dean Kimpton said he could not guarantee the experts appointed to oversee disability groups would be from the disability community, as that was not part of the job description.

"Great people will look to take up these roles, and I'm sure that great people with disabilities in different forms will also look to take up these roles," he said.

"And I know that's the case. I've seen some of the CVs. I can't give you an outcome on it but that's certainly not part of the job description - we've not said 'for you to be an adviser you must be disabled'. We've definitely not said that."

Vital link

Nicola Owen is one of an estimated 300,000 Aucklanders who contend with some kind of disability each day.

Her partner Paul, who also has a disability, was one of two council advisers who Ms Owen said were a vital link between the disability community and the council.

"People contact them about all sorts of things, whether it's to do with transport issues, stuff to do with community centres, parking - all of the kind of things that disabled people might have issues with."

Auckland Council said the gaps would be filled by a new adviser who will have disability issues as one area of responsibility, and a specialist urban designer.

The council was creating 20 specialist positions that would deal with all kinds of minority and special interest groups.

"The disability portfolio will be held by one of our specialist advisers in the new team," said council general manager of community engagement Graham Bodman.

"That person will have a demonstrable understanding and awareness of disability issues ... but they'll also be able to call upon the expertise that will reside in the wider team."

The council was also employing a universal design specialist, who would work in the urban design office and pick up some of the work the two advisers had been doing, Mr Bodman said.

This did not reassure Ms Owen, who said it was laughable for those roles to replace two people who had been working on the issues full-time.

Ms Owen said about 20 members of the community were planning to protest at this morning's strategy and policy committee meeting, where they would also make a last-ditch plea to councillors to keep the two advisers.

The disability community could take further action, she said.

"We have a lot of people from our community involved in things like the transport access group. That expertise is all provided on a volunteer basis - and maybe people start saying, well we're not just going keep giving you our expertise for free."

The chair of the council's disability advisory panel, Clive Lansink, wrote to the council earlier this month to express the panel's concerns.

However, he said he and other panel members had since met with council staff and were reassured by what they told him.

"I'm happy to take the council's assurance at face value, but I'll certainly be doing everything I can to keep them honest."