Belfast Telegraph

Charity for disabled has funding slashed

by Natalie Irvine

A charity supporting disabled people who face discrimination and exclusion, is appalled that funding for its service has been slashed.

Disability Action, based in east Belfast, has been notified by the Planning Service that it will cease funding its ‘Access Service’ at the end of September

This specially tailored service that offers advice to disabled people finding it difficult to lead independent lives due to barriers in terms of access, also examined planning applications to ensure future public buildings continued to be accessible.

Orla McCann, Access Manager for Disability Action said: “Disability Action appreciates that the Planning Service is facing difficult times but for the Minister of the Environment, whose department has a huge annual budget to pass the impact on to direct line services for disabled people is not acceptable.

“Building Regulations require only a minimum standard of access and focus on physical and sensory disabilities .Disability Action takes a pan-disability focus and advises on access provision for all disabled people. Without our intervention, new developments will fail to meet the needs of all disabled people.”

Last year the Access Team dealt with over 1,400 enquiries and responded to over 500 planning applications.

Kym Lennon from Bangor, who had previously used the service, said: “I really enjoy painting and I love to get out and about to take photographs of wildlife, which I use to develop paintings.

“As I am a wheelchair user, it was difficult for me to get around at Castle Espie and there were no mobility scooters. Disability Action’s Access Service contacted Castle Espie to highlight the problem and they have since provided two mobility scooters. I am now able to enjoy the woodland and take photographs of the wildlife and I have Disability Action to thank for this.”

The charity feels that despite recent developments in the law, disabled people continue to experience access problems. A survey carried out by Disability Action in June, found that 81% of disabled people surveyed had experienced a problem with access and 44% said they experienced problems ‘all the time’.

Disability Action was originally told the entire budget for the service was to be cut, but recent discussions with Minister of Environment, Edwin Poots, have seen the reinstatement of 25% of the original funding.

A spokesperson from the Department of Environment said: “Planning Service has supported the Disability Action Access Unit for many years and appreciates that its work is highly valued.However much of the work carried out by the Access Unit does not relate directly to land use planning. The case for funding Disability Action has been considered carefully.

“In light of the significant resource pressures facing the Planning Service and the Department of the Environment, a reduction in the level of funding to Disability Action has been unavoidable. The Department is aware of the implications of the reduction and will keep funding under review.” Disability Action have created an petition to campaign against the planned cuts available on www.disabilityaction.org/access

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