Belfast Telegraph

Charity fund cut

by Natalie Irvine

A charity that supports disabled people who face discrimination and exclusion, has had its funding slashed.

Disability Action has been notified by the Planning Service that it will cease funding its ‘Access Service’ at the end of this month.

Disability Action offers advice to disabled people facing difficulties with access and examines planning applications to ensure public buildings are accessible.

Orla McCann, Access Manager, said: “Disability Action appreciates that the Planning Service is facing difficult times, but for the Minister of the Environment, whose department has an annual budget in the region of £129 million to pass the impact on to direct line services for disabled people is just not acceptable.

“Building Regulations require only a minimum standard of access and focus on physical and sensory disabilities, whereas Disability Action takes a pan-disability focus and advises on access provision for all disabled people.

“Without our intervention in planning applications, new developments will fail to meet the needs of all disabled people.”

Last year the Access Team dealt with over 1,400 enquiries and 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 since have provided two mobility scooters.”

A survey of 200 disabled people carried out in June found 81% had experienced a problem with access and 44% had problems ‘all the time’.

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

A spokesperson from the Department of Environment said they would keep the issue under review but added: “Planning Service has supported the Disability Action Access Unit for many years and appreciates that its work is valued by users of the service. 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 very significant resource pressures the Planning Service and the Department of the Environment are facing, a reduction in the level of funding to Disability Action has been unavoidable.”

Disability Action has created an online petition for those supporting its campaign at www.disabilityaction.org/access

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