We have a relatively high number of people living with disability in Lake Macquarie, so it is imperative that planning, services and activities accommodate their rights and needs.
Census figures show more than 11,500 people in Lake Macquarie need assistance with self-care, mobility or communication. This represents 6.1 per cent of our population, which is above the NSW average of 4.9 per cent.
Inclusion is no one-step feat; it requires sustained, consistent action on multiple fronts. Having more people with disability in the public eye can educate others about their strengths, as well as their struggles, and challenge perceptions. My passion for disability advocacy and community inclusion stems from my experience of living with lumbosacral agenesis and being a wheelchair user. This first-hand knowledge gives me insight and skills in identifying the needs of those in our community. My focus is to build universally accessible infrastructure and ensure Lake Macquarie is a friendly, vibrant and disability-confident city.
As I reflect on my time since becoming a councillor in September 2016, I know how far council has come in making wheelchair users more included.
Over the past few years, I have seen a concerted effort to improve accessibility options at community facilities. Modifications to council chambers and meeting rooms at council's administration building are examples of the improvements that have had a real impact for me and my work. Earlier this month as deputy mayor, I became the first wheelchair user to lead a council meeting. I am incredibly proud of this privilege.
People with disability need to be represented in decision-making, advisory and planning bodies. Encouraging leadership from people with disability and providing a seat at the table assists in advocacy and planning. Through the Lake Macquarie Disability Inclusion Action Plan, council continues the momentum of positive change, implementing strategies at a local government level that complement state and federal government initiatives.
I am honoured to represent the community of Lake Macquarie and be able to speak loudly for people with disability. My advice to other councillors, staff and anyone in the community thinking about how best to include wheelchair users is to just ask me. Ask me, and other wheelchair users, how they can make it easier to get around, ask me what I might need to attend their event. That way we can work together to create a more inclusive and accessible Lake Mac.