Northland to improve disabled access

By Mike Barrington

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Vanassa McGoldrick gives the Regent New World supermarket in Whangarei top marks for providing an electric wheelchair for disabled customers and she is looking forward to test driving a mobility scooter store owner Todd Leathem is considering adding to the in-store transport. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Vanassa McGoldrick gives the Regent New World supermarket in Whangarei top marks for providing an electric wheelchair for disabled customers and she is looking forward to test driving a mobility scooter store owner Todd Leathem is considering adding to the in-store transport. Photo/Michael Cunningham

With nearly one in every three people disabled, Northland has the second highest regional disability rate in the country.

But two Whangarei champions for disabled people have ideas for tourism and housing developments which could improve living conditions for the disabled and possibly turn a regional profit.

Results of the 2013 New Zealand Disability Survey released this week show 1.1 million people - 24 per cent of the national population - have disabilities.

A total of 44,000 people are disabled in Northland.

An estimated 632,000 people (14 per cent of the population) have physical impairments limiting their everyday activities. About 484,000 people (11 per cent) have hearing or vision loss.

Taranaki topped the regional disability rate with 30 per cent of the people there disabled, with Northland at 29 per cent, followed by Bay of Plenty at 27 per cent.

The survey attributed a 4 per cent national increase in people with disabilities since 2001 partly to the ageing population.

Auckland had the lowest regional disability rate on 19 per cent (271,000 people). The city's younger age structure contributed to the low rate, with the survey finding 11 per cent of children disabled compared with 59 per cent of people aged 65 or over.

Tiaho Trust chief executive Johnny Wilkinson suggested Northland could improve tourism income by improving facilities to attract elderly tourists with disabilities.

"Tourism is an ego-driven glamour industry. We target young people with extreme sports and backpackers' accommodation, but they don't have the disposable income of elderly tourists," he said.

"Cruise ships are just one part of the tourism industry that successfully target the older population because ships are finite environments catering for their needs.

" If we made Paihia and other Northland tourist destinations more accessible to the disabled among these passengers we would encourage them to come ashore to shop, eat and spend money on tours."

Lawyer and Whangarei Accessible Housing Trust member Vanassa McGoldrick said the Government needed creative solutions to make sure the disabled were adequately housed.

Subsidies or tax incentives could encourage private landlords to provide housing suitable for disabled tenants who would most likely to be long-term, loath to leave a home which suited them.

"Decent access at the entrance and to the bathroom would be good Disabled people want to be as independent as possible," Ms McGoldrick said.

The trust she helps administer was providing eight accessible homes in Auckland because state finance was unavailable for similar projects in Whangarei.

Ms McGoldrick said improving access to stores and businesses expanded opportunities for disabled people to participate in normal daily activities like shopping.

She praised some Whangarei stores for providing wheelchairs, saying chairs with big wheels which a disabled person could operate were better than those with small wheels requiring a pusher.

She gave Regent New World supermarket in Whangarei top marks for providing an electric wheelchair for disabled customers and she is looking forward to test driving a mobility scooter store owner Todd Leathem is considering adding to the in-store transport.

- Disability rates for the main ethnic groups were: Maori, 26 per cent; European, 25 per cent; Pacific, 19 per cent; Asian, 13 per cent.

-Median age of disabled people in each ethnic group: Maori, 40; European, 57; Pacific, 39; Asian, 45.

- Boys (13 per cent) were more likely to be disabled than girls (8 per cent), but for aged aged 15 and over there was little difference in gender percentages.

- The most common cause of adult disability was disease or illness (42 per cent), while for children the most common cause was a condition that existed at birth (49 per cent).

- Northern Advocate

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