Barriers for the disabled in Northland are numerous and it’s reflected in the survey, says Jonny Wilkinson. Photo / Michael Cunningham
More than 80 per cent of disabled people surveyed in Northland think their councils aren’t providing for their needs, including adequate accessibility to public places and parks.
As a result of that feedback, the chief
executives of Northland Regional Council and the region’s three district councils are looking at advancing an accessibility plan or a similar initiative to make Te Tai Tokerau accessible to people with disabilities.
Northland disability advocacy group Tiaho Trust welcomed such a plan, saying having accessibility standards the same across the three districts would enable people to enjoy the whole region.
In his report presented at an NRC meeting last week, chief executive Jonathan Gibbard said Northland has one of the highest rates of disability, combined with a high number of older adults and young children, a growing number of migrants from non-English speaking background and a high level of illiteracy.
In May 2019, the Chief Executives Forum raised the possibility of developing a region-wide accessibility strategy to enable people with access needs to live, work, play, visit and participate across communities in a more inclusive and equitable way.
Gibbard said a cross-council working group has to date sought feedback from the Disability Advisory Group on the process of strategy/plan development and subsequent action plans.
“A survey asking people with access needs to assess how well their local council were doing to help their district be accessible. Results showed only 17 per cent of respondents thought that councils were doing a good job at accessibility.
“Inadequate footpaths, insufficient public transport and lack of understanding of accessibility issues were common themes across all four councils,” he said.
Gibbard said a survey to gain insight from staff across all four councils on accessibility found a strong desire to improve accessibility however, employees felt a strong lack of guidance, support and resource on how to achieve this in their work practices.
The working group has now developed a campaign of community engagement to gather more indepth information from access needs communities.
Four primary engagement methods being used are a digital platform where people can fill out a survey, share ideas, or chat with others in an online forum and guidance and feedback booklets that can be filled out by individuals or a group. Gibbard said NRC has approved funding in its 2021 Long Term Plan for implementation of a strategy, which was budgeted from 2023/24 onwards.
“It is anticipated that the feedback received through the engagement process will assist in determining the best use of these funds,” he said.
Limited public workshops would be run on an on-demand basis until the end of February next year.
Once engagement has been carried out, feedback will be analysed and a plan or strategy drafted in conjunction with a group of stakeholders from the access needs community.
Tiaho Trust chief executive Jonny Wilkinson wants to see the strategy include an app where locals and visitors could view accessible facilities with the ability to drill down to audits so there was clarity about what was meant by accessibility.
Tauranga City Council has developed an accessibility app, he said, which worked extremely well. He’s urging Northland’s disability community to take part in the consultation process.
“The accessible journey is like transporting frozen goods if there is a break in the journey the product is ruined. If there is a barrier in the accessible journey the experience is ruined.
“Barriers can be numerous and can range from kerb ramps to lack of ground level tactile equipment for blind people to doors wide enough for wheelchair users (or opens the right way) to accessible car parks. The remedy is to ensure an accessible route from A to B which is continuous and has no barriers,” Wilkinson said.
Submissions can be made at www.nrc.govt.nz/making-northland-accessible