A GROUP of passionate residents and disability advocates have dedicated themselves to improving access for people with disabilities across the shire.
The Disability Advisory Committee is comprised of a small group of community members as well as advocates, who were brought together to form the advisory committee to Hepburn Shire Council last year.
The committee collaborates with the council to monitor the progress of the Disability Access and Inclusion Plan 2018-2022, in an effort from the council to seek views from those with lived experience with accessibility issues to work towards solutions.
For Darren Manning, being on the committee gives him a means to voice his opinions on the difficulties he faces in terms of accessibility on a daily basis.
Mr Manning was born in Daylesford and has worked in the region for his entire life. But his life changed forever when he hit a wallaby while riding his motorbike two years ago and has since been confined to a wheelchair.
He said the community had been fantastic upon his return but he had never thought about disability access until he had been forced to see accessibility in the shire - its doorways, footpaths and steps - through new eyes.
"I spent nine months in hospital and when I came back to the area, I realised how many steps there are and how shocking it is for wheelchairs so this is a way for me to be an advocate for the wheelchair world," he said.
For me, if something is wheelchair friendly, it doesn't just make it disability friendly, it makes it friendly for mothers with prams, anyone with a walking frame - if it's wheelchair friendly, it's friendly for everyone- Darren Manning
And for Graham Downie, a former filmmaker, having a stroke a number of years ago changed his life, but being on the committee and advocating for those with disabilities is just one of his newfound passions.
"This is the kind of thing I love to do - meeting people and looking after them," he said. "Easier access is something I really wanted to address when I joined the committee."
Mr Downie spends a lot of time at Daylesford Men's Shed and also runs a stroke group to bring people in similar situations together. He said he would like to see Daylesford become known as a disability-friendly tourist town.
"If we become known as a disability-friendly town, people from all over would travel here and surely we would get a lot of people bringing their parents up," he said.
Another member is Clunes' Andrew Brown. Mr Brown is legally blind and runs his own IT company that specialises in creating adaptive equipment for people with vision impairment.
He joined the committee to be a voice for Clunes, where he has lived most of his life.
"[We are] raising awareness in the community and suggesting services to council so that maybe we can improve different things," he said.
Councillor John Cottrell sits on the committee and said being involved was a "steep learning curve".
Mr Cottrell said the committee was a big step in the right direction but there was still an enormous amount of work to be done across the nation to meet the requirements of disability access.
He said council would continue to put money into building disability-friendly infrastructure with each budget and was working towards putting a process in place so plans can be shown to the committee to see if there are any deficiencies in a design prior to its approval by council.
Thus far there have already been lessons, such as the disability toilets at Clunes, which after being built according to the national disability guidelines, it was soon realised that they were not fully practical. This lesson will applied when building the disability accessible toilets at Quarry Street Reserve.
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