Aiming for a society which includes everyone

Creating a society where the focus is about inclusion for all, in a city, town or small rural community, is the theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

It means ensuring everybody, from those in wheelchairs to parents pushing prams, can access public buildings and spaces, will easily be able to get on and off public transport, or not feel as though there are barriers to being a part of the community.

“Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities” is the aim.

Megan McCoy, the director Office for Disability Issues, says this includes people with invisible disabilities.

Megan McCoy

“I think [it] reminds us of some of the groups who don’t often have a voice or who aren’t often included, and that includes people with a learning disability or with a mental health condition; when you look at someone, you might not know that they have a disability but actually they do.

"For various reasons they can sometimes be more marginalised and vulnerable in the population

Ms McCoy says older people often don’t identify as being a disabled person but “many of the barriers they experience in their life will be due to an impairment so they are also part of the disabled population as well.”

To ensure everybody is able to live, work, and go out, the city or town needs to be inclusive and accessible.

Ms McCoy says promoting access in the community is a key focus of New Zealand’s Disability Action Plan.

“There are a range of different actions trying to have a positive impact on different areas of accessibility from public transport to public buildings and now, this year, there’s a proposed action around social housing.

“I think that’s really important because that’s something that’s been coming up more and more – how many people need accessible social housing, what is currently available, what is the best way of making homes accessible, how do we do that right from the very beginning in a design phase to minimise the cost of retro-fitting houses later on?”


Universal design

Vivian Naylor has been advising the building industry in Auckland about accessibility for the best part of 15 years.

The CCS Disability Action adviser says it works better if she is brought in at the beginning.

“I like to be involved at the concept stage as very often that can determine the end point and whether it’s going to be truly inclusive, accessible and usable for every user.

Valda taking chair exercises

“We’re not coming along with these rigid ideas that it’s people in wheelchairs and they’re the disabled ones; the whole concept of disability or impairment is considerably broader than that.

Ms Naylor says wheelchair users are a fairly small percentage of the population.

“Most people are walking who have a disability or an impairment, quite apart from the hidden ones like balance, as well as hearing and sight loss, intellectual disability and mental health problems so it’s broadening the concept of who, and the diversity of people.

“Then you start looking at designing your building to meet that diversity.”

Universal design is the guiding principle, says Ms Naylor.

“Ramps aren’t just beneficial to wheelchair users, they’re actually useful to people delivering stuff on trolleys, pulling their luggage behind them, pushing their prams etc.

“Bigger toilets might be useful for a wheelchair user but they’re also useful for a parent taking a toddler in with them.

“They’re useful for people if they’ve got luggage as they’ve got space, it’s typically an all gender toilet so it doesn’t matter what sex you are so it’s not disability per se, it’s actually a toilet that can be used for everybody at any time, stage and age of life.”

It also includes the route to access the building.

Considering all elements

It also includes the route to access the building.

“When I was presented with drawings for a swimming pool complex, which were well advanced unfortunately, the architect[said], ‘that’s the accessible route’, and I said ‘well, why isn’t this one accessible, and that one, and that one?” asked Ms Naylor.

She says all the elements on that route need to be taken into consideration.

“When you’re arriving as a pedestrian how that route is designed, how easy is the car parking, is the entrance clearly visible and discernible from the rest of the building, what is the building made of?

“We’re very partial to glass right now and there’s lots of glass facades so people can struggle to work out where the door is because the visibility required on glass for our code compliance is remarkably low. Even people with full sight will have difficulty.”

Ms McCoy says universal design is important for housing too.

“My understanding is that community housing providers are asked, as part of the process for them to become registered, what standards they meet and one of those standards is around lifetime design which is around universal design.

“It’s about making sure of simple things like the widths of doorways, the level of benches.

“There’s things around having a wet space so you can have people with a wheelchair, or people who are not able to get in and out of a bath, still being able to have all the features that a regular bathroom has but that it’s accessible to them."

Older people's rates of disability
  • For older people aged 65 and over 59% are classed as disabled compared to adults under 65 years at 21%
  • Māori and Pacific people aged 65+ are more likely to be disabled
  • NZ European rates of disability for those 65+ are 58%
  • Māori rates of disability for those 65+ are 63%
  • Pacific peoples rates of disability for those 65 + are 74%
  • Asian rates of disability for those 65+ are 50%
  • Ageing (at 31%) is the third leading cause of impairment for adults, behind disease or illness (42%) and accident or injury (34%).[1]

[1] Statistics New Zealand, Disability Survey 2014

Ms McCoy says accessibility and inclusion should be priorities all the time.

“It is important for us not to just focus on one particular day but on things that we can all do every single day; to think about ourselves and disabled people around us.

“Having said that, the way that I have always thought of the International Day is the day of celebration as well.

“So much of what we focus on sometimes with disability is around the barriers, the challenges, the stigma, the discrimination, the negative perceptions.

“In my experience, wherever I’ve been in the world, the International Day has always been celebrated as a way of recognising the strength and diversity within the disabled population and that’s the thing we get to do here, and I’m really excited to go to the Attitude Awards and recognise the significant contributions disabled people have made.