Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New South Wales government accused of neglecting disabled people after elderly man falls on stairs at school

From AAP:

The NSW government has been accused of neglecting disabled people after an elderly person fell on steep stairs at a school, just metres from where the premier was standing during polling on August 21.

Catherine Posniak, a regional advocate with rights group People With Disability, saw the man fall and hurt himself while trying to negotiate steep stairs at Tempe High School.

An ambulance was called and he was taken to hospital.

Ms Posniak said NSW Premier Kristina Keneally was standing about 20 metres away, handing out how-to-vote cards for federal Labor MP Anthony Albanese.

She was unsure whether the premier witnessed the accident, but said she approached Ms Keneally afterward and questioned her about why ramps or lifts were not installed at the school.

"Her response to me was that it (the school) was made in the seventies and it was never meant to be accessible then, so now it's just too difficult to fix," Ms Posniak told AAP on Monday.

"She said, `Well, we would have to make it accessible if somebody who required that enrolled, but that's never happened'."

Ms Posniak said this was not the first time issues of accessibility had been raised with the premier, and called her reason for why the school was not more accessible "disingenuous".

"They haven't even attempted it (installing ramps or lifts) or even done a feasibility study on it," Ms Posniak said.

"All this federal money came down and these are the sort of things that should have been addressed."

A spokesperson for Ms Keneally denied the premier said the issue was too difficult to fix.

"In fact, she acknowledged the government has a responsibility to provide access to the school for children with a disability," the spokesman said in a statement, adding that more than $21 million went on disability access upgrades in schools last year.

"Tempe High School advises disability access has not been raised as an issue.

"And this was the only time anyone has personally raised the issue of disability access at Tempe High School with Kristina as a local MP."

News of the incident surfaced on the same day Ms Keneally and Disability Services Minister Peter Primrose held a final consultation meeting with key disability groups about the future of service provision in NSW.

The government's 10-year plan for disability services, known as Stronger Together, has already injected $1.3 billion in funding toward disability services in the first five years.

Ms Posniak said there were other places besides schools with serious accessibility concerns, such as Sydenham Station, where there are no lifts or ways of easily accessing the platforms.

"We have a convention on the rights of people with disability that Australia has ratified and which binds all governments, and that is to make this society accessible to everybody," Ms Posniak said.

"Government policy hasn't been reflecting that or implementing that, and it's about time it happened.

"We've had this issue with Kristina Keneally for a long time."