Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

The saying goes ‘a wheelchair is not a restriction, it is a tool for movement and living’, but for one local living in Moree, it is definitely limiting.

Moree resident, Tanya Fitch, has taken her voice to social media, as she raises awareness to the inadequate physical access to services and shops in Moree.

“How can I truly feel included, valued, and accepted as a member of the community when that same community continues to allow these physical barriers to remain in place,” Ms Fitch said.

“Sadly, I don’t feel disabled until I leave my house and venture around Moree.”

Tanya sustained a spinal cord injuring from a motor vehicle accident in 1985. She is originally from the Pilliaga, however, Tanya chose to move to Moree 32 years ago for better employment and lifestyle opportunities.

But over that time, she says, little has changed.

Tanya cannot shop at more than half of the shops in Moree’s CBD as they are not wheelchair accessible. Whether it is clothing, books, shoes, homewares, flowers, food or a gift, her choice in buying these items is determined by her ability to get into the shop.

“It is frustrating that my choices are determined by if I can get into a building or not,” she said.

“Where I choose to have a coffee or meal isn’t about what I feel like to eat or where I want to go, my choice is determined and restricted to what business I can get into.”

“Every time I venture into the CBD I feel excluded and that is very frustrating, and at times humiliating.”

“Buying clothes and giftware is also an issue. There are some lovely boutiques and giftware shops in Moree, however, the majority of them have a step or steps to get into the shop.”

“Some do offer online buying, however the shopping experience is not the same,” Ms Fitch said.

The lack of access is to the detriment of Moree businesses, who are missing out on local buyers. But its not just for people with disability, this includes our elderly, parents with prams and other members of the community.

“I understand this is not the retailer’s fault or responsibility if they do not own the building.”

“Nowadays a business does not deny a customer from entering the premises on the basis of race, gender or sexuality, however, people with disability access requirements encounter exclusion daily when they go shopping and want to access services in Moree,” Ms Fitch said.

Moree Shire Council’s Disability Action Plan expired some time ago and is now currently under review to develop a new plan.

“It is really important this action plan gets developed and then it is implemented,” said Moree Shire Council’s General Manager, Nick Tobin.

“Our assets here are old and we need to improve them, there is no doubt about that.”

“We will look at how we can fund the plan going forward and the things that we can do. Not everything is something Council can do.”

“We can help with our own buildings, parking areas and playgrounds, but obviously there are things we need to encourage the community to do like renovate their buildings and upgrades,” Mr Tobin said.

Moree Shire Council is committed to general upgrades of their facilities and assets to ensure they are meeting their requirements to the community and legislation.

“We are dealing with the Civic Hall at the moment; we are making that as accessible as possible.”

“We have the ramp out the front, but the rest of the building will be fully accessible as a result of those works,” he said.

“Every time we do something we have to make sure it is accessible. We are doing inclusive playgrounds with equipment that is available for anyone, not just able bodies, but people in wheelchairs.”

Moree Shire Council will soon hand down their budget for the next financial year, promising the allocation has doubled to get a Disability Action Plan up to scratch.

“We have just allocated $50,00 in next year’s budget, up from $25,000, to do the implementation.”

“We will do most of the work on developing the plan and the community consultation, this will all be done in house with our own staff, but then once it’s adopted, we have allocated money to get things moving,” he said.

Community consultation for the Disability Action Plan will be arranged and inclusive of all corners of the Moree region.

“Our consultation will be the total community, and any other groups that we think should have a voice; some of our senior groups, childcare centres. They are all areas we need to concentrate on.”

Meanwhile, Moree has a newly formed Disability Inclusion Access Committee, endorsed by Moree Shire Council, to help guide the process.

“The Disability Access Committee will have a role to keep us on our toes and make sure we are doing the things that this new plan tells us to do,” Mr Tobin said.

“The committee is a good way to get people with knowledge and passion about the various things we have committees for to provide input and to help guide us.”

The committee meets monthly via a virtual platform, and strongly encourages any new members to join and have a say. However, Tanya Fitch says the committee needs to be inclusive of disabled people.

“In the past, disability committees have been mainly made-up by service providers.”

“For a committee to be effective for the voices and concerns of people who require disability inclusion and access, they need to be involved and represented by themselves or their families/carers in the committee,” Ms Fitch said.

Top image: Tanya Fitch in Moree

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