Rules and Regulations
There are rules around public places being physically accessible. Without being too detailed, new builds are obviously subject to more recent legislation, therefore are likely to be more accessible. Older structures are not held to such restrictions, there being ‘guidance’ for physical access to heritage buildings.
Within this guidance, heritage places do not have to provide physical access if to do so would have an overly negative impact on their heritage attributes. It also states that if applying for alterations or building work, the end result needs to
“comply, as nearly as is reasonably practicable, with the provisions of the building code that relate to
- means of escape from fire; and
- access and facilities for persons with disabilities (if this is a requirement in terms of section 118)”
Older buildings are required, that if they provide toilets, then there is to be a toilet to accommodate people with impairments also. I believe this applies to non-heritage sites too.
I was at a cafe the other weekend, sitting at an outside table, enjoying the Auckland sunshine. The cafe did not look old enough to be anywhere near having heritage status, so the more recent legislation should apply. I noticed a toilet inside, with the wheelchair sign on it. I made a mental note to check it out at some point. Now, this toilet, I’m assuming, has passed council regulations, and has the council tick. However, I wrote ‘assuming’, as I was unable to check it out. The cafe had an oversized step into it. Surely that makes the ‘disabled’ toilet inaccessible !!
There may have been a 2nd entrance, I didn’t ask; the anecdote is to highlight that the ‘council tick’ for physical accessibility is not always practical in reality. I have been to a restaurant where, when booking I emphasised the need for space for my wheelchair and service dog, and I was heavily reassured that I would be seated on the ground floor as I had my wheelchair. Upon arrival, the oversized step down into the restaurant prevented my entry. The staff offered to lift me down. I refused on the grounds of my dignity, but also my safety, as at a combined weight of over 200 kgs, no one would be able to lift me and my chair in or out of the restaurant. When we asked for a ramp, the staff returned with the chef ?!?!
I have been to other restaurants where ‘my’ entrance is via an alleyway where I had to wait while it was cleared of kitchen rubbish. I have attended conferences where I have been escorted through a kitchen to avoid a step (not sure how that would have worked if the kitchen had been in use that day). I teach karate still, but have had to purchase a portable ramp as I am often unable to get my wheelchair into the school hall any other way.
When I met with Hon Phil Twyford, it was suggested that rather than meet at his office (which has a large step into it), we meet at a local restaurant, with better accessible parking. Granted, I was able to easily park, safely exit my rear access vehicle, and then wheel up the ramp to the main entrance where a large blue wheelchair sign was proudly displayed. However, despite obviously having been given council compliance, all this loveliness, inclusion and accessibility stopped there. The door opened in a direction which made it an impossibility for me to hold the door, and safely manoeuvre my chair through the doorway. Even if I was ambidextrous, the door was way too heavy anyway! Yet again, inaccessible accessibility.
Then there is the whole thing around approved disability toilets. Yes, they are required to have certain dimensions, handrails, heights of fittings, but they are not appropriate for all disabilities. At times, I require carer assistance. You try fitting into that space me, my wheelchair, Walter (service dog), and a carer, with room to manoeuvre as required. Include into this, the need others may have of a level, height adjustable surface for laying on while their care needs are being attended to. A shower, hoisting facilities - the list is detailed, but necessary if as a nation, we are going to adhere to the UN Disability Convention and the Human Rights Act, and ensure that all people are treated equally and as such can participate in “cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport”. (Thank you to Changing Places NZ for championing this need www. changingplaces.org.nz).
I don’t think that these issues arise from discrimination, merely from ignorance. It seems to me that most, if not all, accessibility regulations are just not tested extensively with a wide range of disabilities. My power wheelchair is great - lots of oomph to get up steep inclines. However, due to the setup of my modified car, I have a pin on the underside of my car (to lock my chair in electronically). Occasionally, this pin will catch on the lip of a door sill, or a level change on the pavement surface. A manual wheelchair user can have varying degrees of upper body strength, with some able to negotiate a higher steep or steeper gradient than others. How wide a portion of the targeted demographic was consulted?
One day, accessibility really will be for all. Why is it not that way now?