Many local governments effectively engage with their communities, including people with disability, their families and carers, on a wide range of strategic and operational issues. They generally operate on a spectrum from providing information to consulting to collaborating. See below.

At the left-hand side of the spectrum, local governments provide information to people with disability and many are doing this. At the right-hand side, some local governments empower people with disability to make decisions on planning or budgeting which affect them.

This section provides information about how local governments engage with people, what they engage on and how engagement leads to better outcomes for people with disability.

Enable access to information

Local governments provide their communities with a wide range of information and reporting about services and operations but not all is provided in a way which is accessible to people with disability. When local government websites comply with Australian web accessibility standards and online and hard copy documents are available in accessible formats, people with disability may:

  • Read hard copy documents in Braille or easy-to-read versions.
  • Listen to website content.
  • Watch videos with instructions about issues such as emergency management or public transport.
  • Access website documents in specific formats and in easy-to-read versions.
  • Use websites with easy navigation and without large amounts of text.
  • Use specialist screen reader software.

Some local governments also build staff capacity, outside of the communications team, to develop accessible material and information. Increasingly, information for people with disability is also translated into key community languages and into Auslan, the Deaf community’s language.

Many local governments have developed access maps which details the location of accessible bathrooms, scooter recharge points and accessible buildings and infrastructure. Some local governments also provide guides which highlight accessible businesses. These maps and guides can generally be downloaded from websites as accessible PDFs.

Identify and engage with people

Local governments identify and engage with people with disability, their families and carers (as they do with other community members) about their current and future needs. This is usually undertaken periodically in a strategic planning context and more frequently in an operational sense. The survey undertaken as part of this research showed that about half of the local governments in Australia have disability advisory committees, access committees or similar groups to drive this engagement and support people with disability, their families and carers to provide input into a range of issues such as how to:

  • Design and implement public infrastructure, facilities and services.
  • Promote and build social and economic participation.
  • Monitor and measure outcomes.
  • Build local government staff capacity.
  • Promote accessibility in private land and building developments.
  • Advocate to other levels of government.

As a vital starting point, local governments make sure that community engagement strategies include people with disability and that information about community engagement is in an accessible format.

Local governments often engage people with disability in strategic planning by liaising with their advisory committee to help develop, monitor and report on disability access and inclusion plans. Where local governments do not have a disability advisory committee or want to engage more broadly, they use other ways to collaborate with people with disability, their families and carers.

Setting up advisory committees

The membership of disability advisory committees varies across local governments. They can include people with disability, their families and carers, service providers and disability advocates, elected members, and key local government staff.

Elected members are important to strategically position the committee within council and ensure that disability is considered in all decision-making. Over three quarters of councils with these committees include at least one elected member which strengthens the influence of the committee. The Access and Inclusion Committee in the Campbelltown City Council in South Australia and the Disability Network at the City of Whittlesea in Victoria are both chaired by the mayor and include one other elected member.

In many local governments, disability advisory committees are established under state or territory local government acts. This means that minutes are tabled at council meetings.

Disability advisory committees need to represent the interests of people with a wide range of disability. This is often formalised in their Terms of Reference but can be difficult to achieve where membership is generally by expression of interest. In particular, many local governments find it difficult to recruit people with intellectual disability. The Access Committees at Penrith City Council and Glenorchy City Council recruited community members with intellectual disability by engaging local organisations providing services for these people to identify suitable representatives.

Whilst advisory committees can assist with engagement on a regular basis, they are not a substitute for broader participation. Some local governments have been able to engage a representative sample of people with disability, their families and carers and this creates a richer source of baseline data to use for monitoring the impact of future initiatives and actions.

Empower people in decision-making

Some local governments go beyond engagement and actively empower people with disability in decision-making and priority setting. Generally, this means that the outcomes for people with disability are generally stronger as they have been actively involved in planning or considering the best way to allocate scare resources.