Fred Zhao knows what it is like to be in the dark.
Rewind to April, 2005 and the Cabramatta resident was playing rugby league when all of a sudden as he looked out onto the field he couldn’t see the ball being passed around or see the faces of his teammates.
Not long after he was he was diagnosed with Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy – a condition which sees the nerves in the back of the eye deteriorate.
Within a matter a weeks he lost 95 per cent of his central vision and 80 per cent of his peripheral vision.
So when the 26-year-old describes Fairfield Council’s Disability Inclusion Action Plan as a “great thing for people with a disability to make sure we’re not left in the dark” – it has some weight behind it.
“It will mean others like myself will be access tools and have support to achieve their goals,” Mr Zhao said at the launch on Monday.
Despite his limited vision, Mr Zhao still wanted to pursue his passion for sport and fitness.
Enter Fairfield Council. The former Patrician Brothers’ College Fairfield applied and was granted work experience at Fairfield Leisure Centre and is now a gym supervisor.
The personal trainer writes gym program on a special computer and helps others with their health and fitness goals.
“I can even spot if you’re doing an exercise wrong. I still see body shapes and can see shadows of legs so I know what people are doing. I’ve just adapted,” he said.
“Because I was diagnosed at 14 I can use my memory to get around and that helps and while I can’t recognise faces but I recognise voices.
“I don’t use a cane of guide dog because I use my peripheral vision and people often mistake my condition. I remember trying to get into clubs and being knocked back because they could see something was wrong with my eyes and thought I was drunk. Now I am at a stage where I can explain it to people.”
Supporting access to meaningful employment is one of four key action areas in Council’s Disability Inclusion Action Plan.
The other three areas are encouraging more positive community attitudes and behaviours within Fairfield City, creating more liveable communities and further improving access to Council services through better systems and processes.
Each category is broken down with current and new actions to drive each category to support the 16,911 people of Fairfield needing help in their day-to-day lives due to disability.
One action is to create a more liveable community is to compelte disability audits on council facilities, parks, town cenres, libraraies and childcare and leisure centres by 2020.
It’s one of 43 new actions outlined in the plan which also places a timeframe, responsibility and indicator on the tasks.
Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone said council’s vision is that Fairfield becomes a place “people of all abilities feel valued”.
A number of improvements have already been made at Council facilities including the installation of disabled toilets, accessible kitchens and hearing loops at public buildings. Council has also placed additional specialised staff and equipment at its early learning centres.
“That is why Council continues to champion inclusivity both within and outside of Council,” he said.
“Every action taken by Council is a step towards greater accessibility and inclusivity, such as the installation of hoists for entering pools at Fairfield and Cabravale leisure centres, and allowing free or discounted entry to the City’s leisure centres for people with disability.”
Mayor Carbone said the Action Plan isn’t just for those living with disability, but also for their wider community network who may be affected.
It’s something Mr Zhao can relate to.
“It was quite hard when I found out but my family struggled more than I did,” said Zhao, whose mother was diagnosed with the condition in her 30s.
“I put on a brave face for them and slowly adapted and learn to do things differently.
“With the Disability Inclusion Action Plan in place, others like me will also have the opportunity to access the tools and facilities required in order to perform and learn to their best potential.”
NSW Minister for Disability Services, Ray Williams said the Action Plan – developed in consultation with members of the community and local organisations – outlines the Council’s commitment to creating a local environment that better meets the needs of those with disability, improving inclusion and access to services.
“I want to congratulate Fairfield City Council on their ongoing work in this area, including upgrades to Council buildings and community facilities, and better access to employment opportunities,” he said.
Read the full plan here