City walkabout to highlight access issues

Dunedin disability advocates John Marrable (left) and Simon Fogarty, are keen to highlight...
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.

A parking ticket machine is set too high making it difficult for John Marrable and other...
A parking ticket machine is set too high making it difficult for John Marrable and other wheelchair users to use them. Photo: supplied
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.

The placement of some mobility parks in Dunedin's one-way system, such as this one outside...
The placement of some mobility parks in Dunedin's one-way system, such as this one outside Dunedin Hospital, means wheelchair-users must exit their cars into the traffic. Photo: supplied
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 - I even ended up in 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.

The street furniture in the new bus hub can be a trip hazard for people with visual impairment....
The street furniture in the new bus hub can be a trip hazard for people with visual impairment. Photo: supplied
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.

The traffic light button outside Toitu Otago Settlers Museum is put out of reach by awkward...
The traffic light button outside Toitu Otago Settlers Museum is put out of reach by awkward pavement placement, as demonstrated by John Marrable. The crossing is under the umbrela of the NZ Transport Authority. Photo: supplied
Call to update building code

The Government needs to update the building code in order to improve accessibility, a Dunedin City Council adviser says.

Kathryn Ward
Kathryn Ward
Council principal adviser on building solutions Neil McLeod said the New Zealand Building Code was a minimum standard, and the council as the building consent authority could not require anything that was ‘‘more onerous or more restrictive’’.

For new buildings, there was a requirement to comply fully with the code, and the council would always advocate for better access.

‘‘But [it] is bound to grant a building consent if the minimum standard has been reached,’’ Mr McLeod said.

For alterations to existing buildings, there is a requirement to make a decision as to the level of compliance required.

Again, the council would always argue for increased levels of accessibility, but must follow recognised guidelines when determining what was ‘‘as near as is reasonably practicable’’.

‘‘We believe that the best solution is to advocate to Government to update the [building code] requirements,’’ Mr McLeod said.

Dunedin City Council principal urban designer Kathryn Ward said the council had officially adopted the Global Street Design Guide, outlining best practice in urban design, in 2018.

‘‘We follow the [guide] for any street design work we carry out, such as the George St project and central city upgrade, to ensure our streets are accessible for everyone,’’ Ms Ward said.

The council was active in engaging with members of the accessibility community, she said.

Council staff attended Access for All, CCS Disability Action, and Disability Advisory Group meetings, and had regular contact with Wakari Hospital and Southern DHB staff.

‘‘We are currently undertaking an accessibility audit of George St ... which will ensure current issues are identified and a future design will be as accessible as practicable,’’ she said.

BRENDA.HARWOOD@thestar.co.nz

Add a Comment

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter