Disabled people to be given a say in shaping services in Mid and East Antrim

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Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has agreed to establish a disability working group with direct input from the community.

The motion was proposed by Knockagh Alliance Councillor Aaron Skinner at the counci’s September meeting.

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Skinner said: “I believe that when it comes to inclusion, it’s not enough to just do things for people; we should empower them to have a real say in shaping what happens in Mid and East Antrim.

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“This motion is about recognising that those who truly understand the challenges of living with a disability should be at the forefront of our plans and decisions.

Councillor Aaron Skinner and Alderman Beth Adger. Picture: Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.Councillor Aaron Skinner and Alderman Beth Adger. Picture: Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.
Councillor Aaron Skinner and Alderman Beth Adger. Picture: Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

“A few months ago, I organised a meeting for parents of children with ASD to contribute to the Department for Communities’ planning process. After the meeting, parents told me that they spend their lives shouting to be heard and for once someone from government sat down and wanted to listen.

“Our role as councillors is about listening – understanding people’s needs, and addressing them. Unfortunately, the voices of those living with disabilities often get drowned out. This motion is a step towards changing that.

“At the heart of this motion is a straightforward idea – the creation of a Disability Lived Experience Group. This group’s goal will be to provide a channel for people with disabilities to consult directly with us, about changes and initiatives that can improve accessibility throughout this community.”

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Seconding the motion, Braid DUP councillor Alderman Beth Adger, the council’s Disability Champion, said: “In Northern Ireland, there are 52,000 people with a disability. That is an awful lot of people we have to be thinking about.

“In 2020, we launched a Disability Action Plan that is still up and running.

“I have tried to put myself in the disabled person’s shoes. Have you ever tried to walk down a street with your eyes closed not seeing what obstacles are in front of you. It is a scary, scary situation. You should try it or a deaf person trying to hear a shopkeeper above all the surrounding noises or go in a wheelchair down the town with stuff sitting on the footpath.

“Even if you are not disabled, try wheeling a double buggy on the footpath with cars parked halfway across it.

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“This motion raises a lot of issues that could be easily sorted if you could just spare a thought for those less fortunate than yourselves. If this group is set up, it will allow their views to be heard.”

Knockagh DUP Councillor Peter Johnston said: “I think this is an excellent step in showing not just our residents but also beyond that Mid and East Antrim Council has a good reputation for caring for everyone.

“When we were designing the gym at the Amphitheatre in Carrickfergus, the manager very kindly put on a session for Mencap members. I think that enabling process was certainly something they really appreciated.

“This motion will go a long way in setting that practice as something that we do. I hope that we can prioritise this and we can try and get this moved along as quickly as possible.”

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Bannside Ulster Unionist Councillor Jackson Minford said: “The only way to get improvement is to bring in people who are of limited mobility or visually-impaired. Their input is invaluable. There is no point in somebody who is able-bodied looking at these things. You need to hear it from those on the ground who are struggling with it every day.

“Only when you actually push a wheelchair or watch somebody in a wheelchair, you notice how difficult it is.

“If a committee is set up, it has to include people who have those issues, disabilities and they will give you the answers that you need.”

Braid Sinn Fein Councillor Archie Rea commented: “All the towns and villages are the same. Access and sometimes facilities are not there for them. We should try to push this forward so that disabled people can have the access and everything they deserve.”

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Bannside Sinn Fein Councillor Ian Friary remarked: “Footpaths are a disgrace especially in Portglenone for wheelchairs. “

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Braid DUP councillor Alderman William McCaughey said: “I think this is a really worthwhile motion. We are looking at accessibly and our infrastructure and our facilities.”

He urged the council to consider providing employment opportunities for young adults with special needs.

He asked for an amendment for the local authority to also make job opportunities available through internships and apprenticeships to help those young adults gain knowledge and practical experience of a working environment.

“If we do that, it gives proof that those young adults can go out into the outside world and can make applications for employment and have the experience to show.”

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