City walkabout to highlight access issues

Access for all . . . Dunedin disability advocates John Marrable (left) and Simon Fogarty, are keen to highlight everyday issues faced by people with disabilities as they move around the city. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

Dunedin disability advocates will give Dunedin city and Otago regional councillors, staff and contractors a taste of the daily challenges they face during an “accessible walkabout” next week.

Disability Information Service access adviser/educator and wheelchair-user John Marrable and Simon Fogarty, who is blind, will lead the hour-long mystery tour of the central city next Thursday, February 20.

“There are many examples of poor design or implementation around the city, which may seem small things to most people, which make it challenging for people with disabilities to go about their daily lives,” Mr Marrable said.

“We are very keen to highlight those for our councillors and council staff.”

In preparation for the walkabout, Mr Marrable and Mr Fogarty recently took their own tour, accompanied by fellow disability advocate George [surname withheld], who is on the autism spectrum and experiences frequent sensory overload and anxiety.

Taking the route from Dunedin Community House, the trio went down Great King St to St Andrew St, up to George St, and through the Wall Street, Golden Centre, and Meridian malls.

Along the way, they took note of where the streetscape and design of interior spaces created problems for people with disabilities.

For Mr Fogarty, who uses a white cane, the new bus hub was a minefield, with trip hazards created by the permanent seating, roadside “parklets”, abandoned Lime scooters, and uneven paving.

Elsewhere, the random placement of coffee tables, pavement billboards, and a lack of warning of driveways – which should be indicated with a tactile paving surface – were also issues.

“Often, there is no indication that driveways are there at all, which is a safety hazard,” Mr Fogarty said.

“And with so many things on the footpaths, it is very easy to trip or bash your knee on them a garden at one point.”

For George, sensory overload was most often an issue inside malls, which could be noisy, bright, and filled with reflective surfaces.

“For me, going into the malls is well outside my comfort zone – the reflection of light off the different surfaces can be very unhelpful,” she said.

As a wheelchair-user, Mr Marrable found a range of difficulties, both on the streets and inside public spaces.

These included awkward placement of traffic light buttons, parking ticket machines placed out of reach, lift buttons set too high, and problems accessing and using disabled toilets.

He also faces having to exit his car into traffic while parked at mobility parking spaces on the one-way, and a lack of drop-kerbs on George St at mobility parks.

“These were just some of the issues we found in the central city, and they are multiplied across Dunedin,” Mr Marrable said.

“It can make daily life quite frustrating for people with disabilities.”

Unfortunately, many of the issues highlighted by the trio are not covered under current New Zealand legislation.

Mr Marrable, Mr Fogarty and George are members of the New Zealand-wide Access Alliance, which is lobbying MPs across the political spectrum and calling for the introduction of a comprehensive Accessibility Act in 2020.

“I know both the DCC and the Otago Regional Council are keen to make the city as future-proof as possible, and that they are aware of the principles of universal design,” Mr Marrable said.

The University of Otago was also leading the way by having their own design standards for alterations and new builds, which go above and beyond the “antiquated” building standard, he said.