Funding for the State Government’s Rural Access program will cease in June next year, leaving questions around the future of all-abilities advocacy and inclusion in the region.
Warrnambool City Council acknowledged the funding would stop at its monthly meeting on Monday night, with councillors saying it was a disappointing outcome.
The Rural Access program supports communities to plan and develop strategies which increase participation opportunities for people with a disability.
The council is the local auspice of the program, with two full-time officers employed to work in Warrnambool and across Corangamite and Moyne Shires.
Cr Sue Cassidy said she was saddened to hear it was finishing.
“It’s a program that does so much,” she said.
“I will strongly advocate for it to be put into our budget.”
Mayor Tony Herbert said it had been an “incredibly important” program.
“A caring community looks after its most vulnerable,” he said.
Cr Peter Hulin said the council should look to employ people with all abilities.
“I would like to see the council itself take a leading role in employing people with a disability,” he said.
“I believe it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Since it started, the program has worked to change the way communities respond to people with a disability, with hundreds of community projects developed.
The projects include transport initiatives, improvements to the environment, arts and cultural development programs, and other work in education, health, youth, community awareness and sport and recreation.
The Warrnambool Rural Access program has been involved with 25 major projects each year.
Projects include the Hampden Hurricanes all-abilities football team, all-abilities surfing and advocacy for people with a disability.
A council report said Rural Access had worked to enhance access for people with a disability by having input into infrastructure planning in the three municipalities.
“Program evaluation reports, together with feedback from project partners, people with a disability, families and carers, have identified that the Rural Access program has been a key change agent for strengthening communities and enhancing the access and inclusion of people with disability,” it says.
“Without the support of the Rural Access program a number of community access and inclusion initiatives and projects will cease and others may be at risk of not continuing.”
Warrnambool Disabled Surfers Association president Aidan Nicholson said the group had received great help and advice from the Rural Access program.
Funding stops on June 30, 2018.
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