The Inclusive Towns project is creating opportunities where people with a disability are leading change in their local community. Photo: Andrew Perryman

DAVID Stratton wanted to have a beer in his local pub at Newstead, and so began for him a journey that has led to him being employed as one of six disability inclusion officers hired to help businesses make his life easier.

Dr Stratton and five other newly-employed officers will in the coming year talk to businesses in their respective communities, and support them to make changes that make people with disabilities feel more welcome.

The project will operate in the City of Greater Bendigo and the Loddon Shire and Mount Alexander shires.

Funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme, organisers hope the project will create a model of operation that can be rolled out nationally.

“People don’t deliberately discriminate, they are not there to say, you can’t access my businesses,” City of Greater Bendigo senior disability inclusion officer Jolie Middleton said.

“It is just the fact that not a lot of us have had the lived experience of disability before.

“So by having a conversation with someone who does, and by being in a broader team with other people with various disabilities, they can not only talk about their disability, but represent the wider group.”

Dr Stratton has multiple sclerosis which sees him use a wheelchair for mobility.

He said his new career after teaching IT at the now Federation University, stemmed from his experience living in Newstead.

When he lived there, he had wanted to visit the local businesses but lack of accessibility for a wheelchair meant he couldn’t.

After an assessment during which he visited businesses with an occupational therapist, a portable ramp was purchased for the hotel and Dr Stratton subsequently enjoyed many beers there.

“This is also good, because I am in there and all the other people are there, they are all getting familiar with the needs of a disabled person and they come and set the ramp up for me and importantly, put the ramp away afterwards,” he said.

“What is really sweet is disabled people will come to Newstead from around the country because it is a go-to place, an access oasis soon to be an inclusion oasis.”

Ms Middleton said the pilot in Eaglehawk, Inglewood and Bridgewater showed changes businessses could make could be as simple as keeping a magnifier on the counter to help people read small print, or making opening hours clear so people could plan their daily chores.

She said businesses were open to receiving support, particularly from people who had lived with the experience.

“I don’t see that engaging business in new locations being an issue,” she said.

The officers will finish training before starting work in their designated communities. 

– Sharon Kemp