Eden Park aces cup venue disability audit

By Simon Collins

Tony Howe says Eden Park has allocated a generous number of 'very good' seats to disabled visitors. Photo / Dean Purcell
Tony Howe says Eden Park has allocated a generous number of 'very good' seats to disabled visitors. Photo / Dean Purcell

Disabled people have been given some of the best seats at Eden Park as part of a drive to make the Rugby World Cup accessible to everyone.

A new campaign called Be.Accessible has audited about 60 Auckland sites likely to be visited by Rugby World Cup visitors and says most have agreed to make any changes required to become accessible.

Wheelchair-using Tony Howe of the Disability Resource Centre, who has carried out most of the assessments, says the $256 million redevelopment of Eden Park includes more than the legally required number of seats for the disabled.

He tried them out at the Four Nations double-header rugby league games last November and found many are in "very good locations".

"They are very well situated with all the hospitality directly behind, and close to the lift and the toilets," he says.

"At the league game a lot of able-bodied people thought we had the best spots, so they tended to mill around us.

So they have learned that there needs to be a little bit of division to identify that [the area] is for mobility issues."

The other Auckland cup venue, North Harbour Stadium, has also allocated several areas to disabled people - outside, in the stands, in the corporate area and in a public area upstairs.

The league game was used as a test-run for disabled people getting to Eden Park. Two wheelchair users came by car from north and south, and Mr Howe caught a train from his home in Avondale. All trains are supposed to have carriages marked by a blue wheelchair symbol that carry ramps that can be put down for wheelchair users.

"It was easy until the train arrives and it's full," Mr Howe said.

"Then certainly the exercise highlighted that having ramps at the back of the carriages doesn't make it easy for staff to have to unload half the carriage so they can get at the ramp."

In practice the train left many passengers stranded and another carriage was sent back to pick them up.

Mr Howe has also assessed "fan zones" such as Queens Wharf, which is being made accessible as part of the "Cloud" project, and the redeveloped Aotea Square, which he described as "a fully accessible environment".

He has worked with Auckland Airport to remove hazards, improve signs and make other changes such as taking out rubbish bins and other objects which made the disabled toilets a tight squeeze for wheelchairs.

He is still working with Rainbow's End, where a wheelchair user could get right around the site but could only get on to two rides.

He is now training assessors to audit facilities in the other 11 Rugby World Cup cities by the end of next month. The project has been launched by the Auckland Council, Auckland District Health Board and AUT University, and has won $500,000 from the Social Development Ministry for a nationwide "social change campaign".

"I think this is our city's chance to really shine, and through that the rest of the country," Mr Howe said.

- NZ Herald

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