News 22 Mar 2018
Advocating greater access for people with disabilities is a passion for Victoria University’s International Development Scholarships Manager Tim Lawther. As a facilitator at the PISAN Fono Waikanae in March, Tim ran a workshop on improving accessibility throughout the Pacific.
A workshop on improving accessibility throughout the Pacific sparked some keen discussion amongst Pacific scholars.
“They had a general awareness that it wasn’t right and that disabled people were excluded because of it,” says Tim Lawther, Victoria University’s International Development Scholarships Manager.
“But when discussing the terminology and its effects, they also began to understand why many disabled Pacific people don’t like the terms used by others about them. The use of words are very important to changing attitudes among the broader society.”
Having lived and worked in Timor Leste (formerly East Timor) for five years, which included three years working for the National Disabled Peoples organisation, Tim describes the accessibility for disabled people throughout the region as “quite dire”.
“All but two or three of the main public buildings were inaccessible,” he says.
“Roads, pathways and bridges were too narrow and steps were too steep. Even door handles were a problem because they were too high. Such barriers need to be removed to enable them to live active, empowered, semi-autonomous lives. ”
When advocating for greater access, the extra cost involved to create easier access is often raised by opponents.
Tim agrees the costs in creating disability access for existing infrastructure may be too prohibitive for some. What he advocates for in the Pacific is greater disability access for each new project in the region.
“If you design a structure that caters for them from scratch, the cost in doing so is fairly nominal, usually between 5-10% more. The key is to get it right at the design stage,” says Tim.
“And that 5-10% extra on budget can easily be offset if the disabled population was economically productive, which they’re generally not in the region.”
He adds that it takes time to make changes for the better.
“No one expects small Pacific island nations to be inclusive overnight,” he says.
“What the disability community want to see is progress and inclusive development, so the entire nation’s people move forward.”