I have been talking to John Dolan, CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland, about the difference that local authorities can make for people with disabilities. John believes that the spaces and places that work for people with disabilities will result in communities are better for everyone. With creative thinking, and imaginative planning, communities and neighbourhoods can be safe, comfortable and inclusive places where all the generations can participate together.

John Dolan, CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland

Making communities accessible and inclusive for people with disabilities is an investment in all citizens, not an issue for a marginal group of people. As John says, every street and every home needs to respond at some point to disability or mobility issues – the youngster with a sports injury, someone trying to get back on their feet after surgery, the parents with small children in pushchairs, the older person with arthritis or other mobility problems, the people who need the support of neighbours and community.

John makes the case that local authorities can be at the forefront of action on big issues of the population’s health and wellbeing, if they plan for healthy communities. Our spaces for walking, cycling, community activities, places where the generations can meet and get to know each other – all these opportunities promote healthy, friendly communities and all depend on careful planning by local authorities.

A home is a basic necessity. A home that is designed from the start to enable the person to live there over the course of their lives is an investment that will pay off for families, the health services, and social services. Building Regulations and housing design for life will mean long term savings for individuals, families and the taxpayer. John says that when it comes to building standards, we must get beyond technical compliance and design for community wellbeing.

John and I have a shared view too on how local councillors and local authorities can assert a role as advocates on many areas of national policy – in areas like health, children’s services, transport, sustainable environments. The local representatives should draw on their direct experience of what works for people and use that experience to influence national policy. And the TDs and Ministers should value that knowledge, listen and learn.

DFI’s national conference 2014 is themed Citizen Engagement – Local Government by Local People. It will explore the theme of how people with disabilities can engage as citizens in their local community. The Conference is a ‘must’ for anyone interested in making sure that citizens’ voices and especially the voices of people with disabilities count at local level. For more information, see the DFI website