Tauranga is making strides towards becoming a wheel-chair friendly destination, but more work needs to be done to make the city physically accessible for everyone.
Tauranga Disability Advisory Group co-chair Paul Curry has been in a wheelchair for 50 years.
He is urging the Tauranga City Council to commit to “universal design” throughout all spaces.
Universal design considers various life scenarios such as disability, old age, childhood, injury and pregnancy in all design.
“The only times I ever feel disabled is when I have a barrier in being able to do things and I have to accept help from people.
“If every space was designed for people on wheels, then I wouldn’t have a disability,” says Paul.
In Tauranga, 28 per cent of people identify as living with a disability.
Tauranga woman Amanda Lowry has been in a wheelchair for six years.
She says there are not enough outdoor public spaces in the Bay accessible for people in wheelchairs.
“As a disabled mum, I am restricted as to where I can go with my kids. There are only three outdoor spaces I can go with my babies where they don’t have to help me.
“We go down to The Strand on the waterfront, we go to Fergusson Park and Pilot Bay in the Mount. It’s really important for me to go out and be a mum, without my kids having to help.”
Paul runs a universally designed Airbnb in Papamoa and often struggles to find accessible public spaces for his guest to visit.
“The design for towns and streets is sussed. When it gets to things like recreation, leisure, and other outdoor spaces – that’s the next biggie.
“It would be useful for the council to complete an audit of all their facilities. This would ensure any future maintenance or upgrades will make the spaces more inclusive.”
CSS Disability Action Midland Region general manager Colene Herbert says the council is receptive to making good decisions about accessibility in the community.
“TCC consults with CSSDA to try and make our community accessible for all. While they are receptive, they are limited by the size of their budget.”
On the other hand, Colene says local developers have a long way to go in terms of consideration for wheelchair access to homes and on footpaths.
“They tend to do their own thing without consulting with people who have expertise in the area of accessibility which leads to re-work or just a general lack of access.”
Amanda says a major issue for her is rolling on and off footpath kerb drops when travelling unaccompanied.
“It’s death on some of them. I have to ask strangers to push me up to them because they are too steep.
“If all of that stuff was uniform it would just make the whole town much more accessible.
“The moment you don’t have to think, and you feel like everybody else, that’s when you know that whoever has done the work has got it right.”
TCC spokesperson Dani Jurgeleit says they are establishing a working group to see where they can apply universal design across the community.
This includes public spaces, community facilities, street design and advising on commercial developments.
They are also looking to create universal design tool kit to support development projects in Tauranga.
This tool kit will consider ways to make public spaces more accessible using technology such as the AccessAware app to assist in mapping and monitoring mobility-parking.
Paul says Tauranga needs to be classified as a destination for people with disabilities.
“It’s a great place to live, and we have the highest number of people with disabilities in New Zealand, so why not make it accessible to everyone?
“I love it here, and the more accessible it is the more opportunities it gives me and my family to live a really big life. When everything is set up for me, it means everything is set up for everyone,” Amanda adds.