Simple modifications to orchard equipment have given a disabled man a sense of purpose in life.
Tom Scott nearly died in a car accident in 1995. He was a member of the Taupo volunteer fire brigade and the crew were on their way to a fire when tragedy struck. The fire truck flipped, Mr Scott was thrown around the inside of the cab and when the truck came to rest on its side, the heavy door crashed down on his spine and pinned his legs outside the truck while his body dangled into the cab.
The accident left him partially paralysed and he had been unable to get work since. But 18 months ago he found a kiwifruit orchard in Te Puke set up to cater for disabled workers. Mr Scott said a range of simple modifications on orchard equipment had enabled him to get back into the workforce and do an honest, hard day's work.
"It's been absolutely fantastic because for 15 years I've effectively been jobless and the value I feel now is priceless," he said. "It's hard to describe how wonderful this experience is, for my self-worth, my self esteem. I feel valued again."
Mr Scott used a modified golf cart to get around a kiwifruit orchard and perform daily tasks.
The 12ha farm was owned by the Kelleher Family Trust.
Kurt Kelleher, father of former All Black Byron, said the mantra of the farm was to help those who helped themselves.
"The Kellehers have some sort of [affinity with] people that are afflicted and it's led on into our family trust and it's expected.
"When we got into a position where we were able to help, instead of being generous with money we felt with our associations having a more hands-on approach was beneficial, and we are always willing to help people that are willing to help themselves," he said.
Mr Kelleher and his sons Toby and Byron talked about developing an experimental golf cart for the family orchard so people with disabilities could achieve their aims. The designs were taken to a local engineering firm which helped develop the prototype machine, Mr Kelleher said.
Today, the orchard has two modified golf carts and a modified tractor, which operate by a hand-controlled brake and accelerator. The golf cart was equipped with electric cutters and the driver's chair swivelled to the side so operators could face the vines and cut the fruit directly in front of them. It was fitted with roll bars and sensors so it didn't get too close to the vines.
Mr Kelleher said the next step was to fit the machines with GPS systems and create hands-free steering so the operator could have both hands available to pick kiwifruit.
The trust had to invest some money to implement the modifications but the rewards gained were worth it, Mr Kelleher said.
"There's always a financial cost before the rewards are achieved but these rewards don't have to be financial rewards," he said.
"I don't see the distinction between someone like Tom and anyone else. They are valuable people in society and this gives them an opportunity to get their dignity back and do a hard day's work.
"I hope from this someone else out there might say: 'If he can do it, so can I'."
CCS disability action service leader Jo Herbert said it was pleasing to see someone apply "real Kiwi No8 wire kind of ingenuity" and develop a machine to help a disabled person get back into the workforce. She said his actions were empowering for people with disabilities.
"We applaud people who do anything they can to support people with disabilities get back out there and working.
"I think work for people with disabilities is every bit important as work for everybody else in the community. It's something that gives a person status, they're able to live off an income and get back into life."