Free entry goes for disabled

SCOTT MORGAN
Last updated 08:00 07/02/2013
Colleen Brown and Huhana Hickey
Scott Morgan
COSTLY SWIM: Auckland Council’s Disability Strategic Advisory Group leaders Colleen Brown and Huhana Hickey aren’t happy with the lack of consultation over new swimming pool charges.

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Disabled pool users in South Auckland are counting down the days until they lose free access to their swimming centres.

Everyone in the former Manukau city area still gets free entry to council-owned pools.

But that will change on April 2 when Auckland Council scraps free entry for everyone except under 16-year-olds.

Leaders in the disabled community - including one who advises the council on policies for the disabled - say they haven't been consulted properly about the changes.

Wheelchair-bound Dr Huhana Hickey says getting free access to the pool for herself and her two caregivers isn't about having a fun time in the water.

"I don't come here because I want to splash around. I come here to do exercise that keeps me mobile, that keeps me well. If I can't do that, it'll get to the point where I can't do anything at all."

The Papatoetoe woman wants pool access kept free but says, if not, then costs should be kept minimal as many disabled people have limited earning potential.

Dr Hickey is chairwoman of the council's Disability Strategic Advisory Group which helps the council develop effective policies for disabled people.

Manurewa Local Board member Colleen Brown is the deputy chairwoman.

But neither had any idea about the council's latest proposal to offer a discount for disabled pool users, seniors, students and community services card-holders.

The council is proposing a $2 single entry fee or $18 for a concession card of 10 visits. Caregivers who don't get in the pool will remain free while those who swim are classed as supervising adults and will pay $1.

Mrs Brown is concerned that nothing about a revised pricing structure was raised at the advisory group's latest meeting last month.

"We have council officers at every Disability Strategic Advisory Group meeting - not one officer to my knowledge brought this particular matter to our attention, even though it would impact on us directly."

Mrs Brown wants free access maintained for people such as her disabled son Trav.

"It's safe here and supervised. For some it's a major part of their day, part of a social group they would look forward to.

"It's a combination of health and safety benefits. It's not only children under 16 that go swimming."

Council recreation facilities manager Lisa Tocker says the advisory group had its chance to make a submission on the pools policy in the long-term plan but didn't make mention of it.

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But Dr Hickey says it's hard to delve into a long-term plan if disability policy is sitting there but not highlighted.

"It needs to be [highlighted] if we are to be able to find all the policies pertaining to disabled throughout the large document they produced.

"We did ask that they make it clearer to us but the council did not."

Ms Tocker says officers will attend this month's advisory group meeting to provide information on the swimming pool pricing policy and hear concerns.

The council's finance and strategy committee will make a final decision on pools pricing policy in March.

The Otara-Papatoetoe and Mangere-Otahuhu Local Boards are proposing to implement full or partial subsidies for adult entry to swimming pools in their areas funded by a targeted rate. That is a separate matter to the council's swimming pool pricing policy.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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