Wheelchair educator raises $12,000 for laptops that have enabled him to keep working.

A class set of laptops has proved life-changing for a young Aucklander who believes he is New Zealand's only wheelchair-using teacher with cerebral palsy.

Onehunga High School English teacher Red Nicholson, 28, thought he would have to give up teaching after he found in 2012 that his right hand was seizing up because of the handwriting he had to do marking students' assignments.

But a set of 29 $400 laptops, which lets him monitor and mark students' work in Google Documents, has enabled him to keep teaching.

He has also been promoted to head of media studies and has been put in charge of developing e-learning at the school because he now knows more about it than any other teacher.


"Red is an outstanding teacher and an exceptional person and a fine role model," said principal Deidre Shea.

The Ministry of Education is installing two lifts to make the school wheelchair-accessible, and says its policy is to make property modifications whenever a student or staff member needs it.

Modifications include installing ramps, lifts or hoists, altering doors and thresholds and adapting toilet facilities.

But neither the ministry nor a Job Support fund run by the disability support agency Workbridge would pay for the laptops, and Mr Nicholson had to raise the required $12,000 from charities.

"The moral of the story is that disabled people need to use the funding in flexible ways to get out there and work in the community, and currently the funding system doesn't work for them," he said.

He is one of about 6000 New Zealanders with cerebral palsy, a condition that affects muscle control, usually from birth.

Cerebral Palsy Society manager Harvey Brunt said symptoms ranged from a slight limp to almost complete disability.

Mr Nicholson has never let his condition hold him back. He worked for Telecom, then trained as a radio journalist before going teaching, and once ran a blog called "Walking is Over-rated".


He and his scientist wife Helen are expecting their first baby next May.

Pupil Semesa Arei, 14, enjoys using the laptops. "It's good for the students because it gives them a chance to learn from him," he said.

Mr Nicholson sees value in the school's 1200 students being "exposed to diversity and disability on a daily basis".

5 facts about disabled workers

• 24 per cent of Kiwis have a disability. Problems with walking are most common, affecting 1 per cent of children, 6 per cent at ages 15 to 44, 15 per cent at ages 45-64 and 46 per cent of the elderly.

• Only 45 per cent of disabled adults are employed, compared with 72 per cent of non-disabled.

• 9 per cent of disabled adults want to work but are unemployed, compared with 5 per cent of non-disabled.

• Workbridge provides Job Support grants of up to $16,900 a year for things that enable disabled people to work.

• Spending on Job Support and related funds has fallen from $9.4 million in 2008-09 to $5.5 million in 2013-14.