Disability strategy nearing sign-off

Photo: ODT files.
Photo: ODT files.
The Southern District Health Board’s disability strategy is a personal document for Paula Waby.

Not only did she help draft it, but as a blind person, she hopes it will have a major impact on her life.

"We don’t want this to be a document that sits on a shelf, and that it not just be a tick-box exercise," Ms Waby, a member of the SDHB’s community health council and president of the Dunedin branch of the Disabled Persons Assembly, said.

"It is a living, moving, changing document as society changes and people learn."

The final strategy, which had six weeks of public consultation, is back before the SDHB for final sign-off before being launched in the new year.

Disabled people played a key role in drafting a strategy intended to improve their healthcare and quality of life, Ms Waby said.

"This document has to be about disabled people, as disabled people have to live this document ... some of the feedback that we are getting is that the people definitely feel that they are being heard and respected."

The strategy will commit the SDHB to giving disabled people equal opportunity to achieve the best possible health outcomes, ensure access to health services and have disability issues considered in all decision-making.

Quality and clinical governance solutions executive director Gail Thomson said simply drafting the strategy had already led to improvements: telehealth services had increased, renovation work had been done at Lakes Hospital to improve disabled access, and 94% of SDHB staff had had recent disability awareness training.

The organisation had also carried out a stocktake of services.

"We can build on that or offer services where there is nothing at all," Ms Thomson said.

"It is certainly a high-profile document within the organisation at the moment and has our full support, so we are hoping to come up with plenty of initiatives going forward."

Ms Waby said disability was more common than people realised — 26% people in the southern region are considered to have some sort of impairment — and that figure would increase due to the average age of the population rising.

"Being disabled can often only be temporary, so you may not consider yourself disabled but you may still need to make use of some of the things that are covered in the disability strategy," she said.

"People think being disabled is something long term or permanent but that’s not necessarily true. If you break your leg skiiing and are on crutches, you are disabled for some time, even if you don’t choose to use that term yourself."

The strategy had also had two immediate impacts on local health planning.

It had been considered as part of the continued rollout of the primary and community health strategy — in particular the provision of healthcare to disabled people in remote areas.

Planning for the new Dunedin Hospital had also taken into account the needs of the disabled.

"We are excited about new hospital and how it is intended to be accessible for everyone," Ms Waby said.

"Some people need visual information not words, while some need oral information or braille, and it is good that the DHB is open to the different ways available to get information across."



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