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Age Friendly Suburbs Program Consultation

Published on November 24, 2022

Thank you for the opportunity to make a short submission to the Age Friendly Suburbs Program. As a Disabled Peoples Organisation (DPO), Advocacy for Inclusion (AFI) represents people with disabilities from the ACT in our systemic policy work.  This submission is also endorsed by COTA ACT – a local organisation working to improve the lives of older people in the Canberra community.   

This submission highlights the current barriers people with disability, including older people and people with mobility issues, face when accessing public places in Reid, Chifley, Scullin and O’Connor. We also discuss opportunities for introducing a systematic management system for ACT’s public spaces, which will ensure accessibility, increase community wellbeing and reduce public health costs.   

Within Canberra, there are steadily increasing numbers of both older people, and people with disability.1 Improving the accessibility of public spaces for people of all ages and abilities is necessary to achieve progress in various life domains highlighted in the ACT Wellbeing Indicators, including accessibility and connectivity, identity and belonging, and social connection. Ensuring accessibility is also essential for supporting individuals to engage in active and healthy lifestyles, to uphold human rights obligations and to prevent discrimination.   

The quality of public planning and accessibility has significant impacts for all Canberrans, including people with disability and older people with mobility issues. Across Australia, approximately 25% of falls leading to hospitalisation occur in urban settings.2 In 2018-19, the number of hospitalised falls across Australia was 132,933 at a cost of $4.3 billion.3 Of this, 93% of falls experienced by older people were classified as an emergency (in terms of urgency of admission) and the average length of hospital stay was 9.5 days.4  

To ensure that Canberran’s remain safe, the ACT Government must adopt a continuous and systematic approach to the management of public spaces which proactively audits areas and repairs issues. This approach must involve oversight from people with disability and older people, and it must incorporate principles of universal design along with lived experience and priorities highlighted by local resident. 

The audit should begin by focusing on issues in older suburbs because, as identified by PWDACT (who are now incorporated into AFI), there are significant differences between the accessibility of the national capital precinct, newer areas and older areas of the ACT.5  

We note that there is currently a funding proposal from Living Streets and SEE-Change to conduct walkability audits and this is supported by us.   

We encourage Government to act on ACTCOSS’s wide ranging submission to the 2021 ACT planning Review, which highlights the need for a planning policy that is guided by in depth needs assessment work, a focus on social planning and increased efforts to engage missing voices.  The new ACT Planning System needs a funded resource focussed on social planning within the ACT Government.   

We also support enhanced focus and resourcing by Community Councils on accessibility issues noting that this is work that is resourced within municipal government in other jurisdictions.   

We also note that the Transport Canberra and City Services working group for accessibility is currently mainly focussed on transport issues and that work to improve accessibility requires a discrete, well resourced body with a sharp focus.   

Regarding specific issues in Reid, Chifley, Scullin and O’Connor, we note the following areas must be improved to ensure community wellbeing and safety

  1. All pathways must be made safe, smooth and useable to enable a seamless path of travel between group centres and town hubs. The systematic management process, discussed previously, must be used to maintain pathways. Currently, the once seamless path of travel across the Chifley bike path to Phillip is no longer accessible. This is due to tree root damage under the pavement of the walkway heading towards the Woden Plaza underpass.  
  1. Good lighting must be provided along all pathways. This is an essential element of improving safety for all members of our community, but particularly for people with disability, elderly people and women. For this reason, lighting is also an important priority in the Gender Sensitive Spaces project.  
  1. All amenities like public toilets must be made accessible (and remain unlocked) including the provision of Changing Places toilets where possible.  
  1. Urgent universal transport transformations must occur, which ensure ACT’s travel environs are safe for everyone to use, regardless of age, ability, gender, culture or mode of travel, per the framework outlined in Living Streets’ Active Travel Plan submission (August 2022). 

Focusing on these improvements, whilst following a systematic and proactive management system, will benefit all Canberrans, including older people, people with disability, people with mobility issues, parents with young children (including those who use prams), and women.