McMullan: Recovery plan must let Belfast lead on inclusion

Alliance Councillor Ross McMullan has said Belfast City Council’s Covid-19 response and long-term recovery plan must deliver on the Council’s commitments to be inclusive of disabled people and older people calling on the Local Government authority to commit to being a globally leading city on inclusion and accessibility.

The East Belfast Councillor was speaking as he revealed the Council’s Strategic, Policy and Resource Committee was set to debate a motion he’d tabled aimed at delivering a common, strategic vision of disability-inclusion and accessibility for Belfast as it plans its strategy to reopen the City.

He said: “I’m delighted I will have the opportunity to press on the Council the importance of respecting the rights and needs of everyone as the Council begins to consider our response and recovery plan to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I’ve had a range of meetings and conversations with groups and representatives over the past number of months on the severe impacts lockdown has created on the day to day lives of many disabled people, older people, and carers. For example, the removal or reduction of access to key services and support for independent living and the impact of self-isolation on health and wellbeing. Social distancing will be with us for the foreseeable future and presents additional and serious challenges that need to be addressed, if people who have lost their independence are to regain it.

“Additionally as the conversation has turned to recovery and the opportunity to think about the ‘new normal’, it has been made clear that for many that the ‘old normal’ often did not work for them.

“We need to ensure that in the short term, disabled people and older people are consulted on plans to ensure social distancing can be maintained, particularly as they relate to the urban environment.

“At the heart of this is ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ and ensuring disabled people and older people are meaningfully consulted in the Council’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as the experts in how decisions affect them, and that we as a Council through our functions and influence act on those voices.

“What is required overall going forward for the long-term recovery of Belfast is a strategic roadmap on how we will deliver an accessible city for all by 2035 as we committed to in the Belfast Agenda. To do this I am further proposing the creation of a reference group for disabled people so we as councillors can discuss and progress actions on our commitments to becoming an accessible city for all with disabled people in the room and at the table.

“Another important aspect is the creation of an ‘Access and Inclusion’ senior staff role within Council to act as a point of contact on internal and external strategic thinking. I am also proposing we learn from other cities and to undertake a consultation report on models of best practice of accessibility and inclusion from other cities.”