Nelson-Tasman disabled facilities a 'letdown'

4:36 pm on 23 August 2023
Jill Martin says most public toilets aren’t actually accessible and don’t provide enough room for her to manoeuvre her husband Alan in his wheelchair. Photo: Max Frethey/Nelson Weekly. [via LDR single use only]

Jill Martin says most public toilets are not actually accessible and do not provide enough room for her to manoeuvre her husband Alan in his wheelchair. Photo: Max Frethey / Nelson Weekly

The disabled facilities across the region are a let-down, according to a Belgrove woman who cares for her partially-paralysed husband.

Alan Martin had a stroke eight years ago and now he is paralysed down the right side of his body, meaning he uses a wheelchair. His wife Jill now cares for him, but she says the disabled facilities and general accessibility across the region are not adequate.

"You cannot have them home from hospital until an occupational therapist has been to your house, and you put in all the rails that are needed, change the furniture, everything, to accommodate their needs," she explained.

"And then you find everywhere, publicly, lets you down."

Chairs without armrests to help disabled people lower or lift themselves, spring-loaded doors that close on people being pushed in wheelchairs, disabled car parks that still have a kerb which renders them useless for those in wheelchairs, and too-steep ramps were some major issues for Jill and Alan, however even the disabled toilets were not good enough.

Heavy sliding doors, a lack of grab rails on both sides of the toilet - a single grab rail could be useless for Alan if it was on his paralysed side - toilets that were too low, and rooms that were too small to allow someone pushing a wheelchair to manoeuvre, make every trip to a public disabled toilet an ordeal.

Even the disabled facilities in Nelson Hospital were not adequate, according to Jill.

"I want to go around every disabled toilet in every place I've been to … and rip every sign off every disabled door because none of them are easily accessible. I haven't found one yet that is good for getting a wheelchair in and out of," she said.

"Every human being should have the right to dignity when they go to the toilet."

Jill has spent years of her life pressing for changes to accessibility guidelines and standards, but has gotten nowhere.

"You just hit your head on brick wall after brick wall after brick wall."

Both Tasman District councillor Glen Daikee and Nelson City councillor Campbell Rollo, each council's member on the Accessibility for All forum, see their councils' roles as one of advocacy but do agree that they could do more to foster accessibility and engage with the disabled community.

"We have got a long way to go. I think the reality is those conversations [about accessibility] haven't been had enough," Rollo said.

However, he pointed to the recent development of Nelson City Council's Annual Plan for the 2023/24 financial year as an example where members of the disabled community submitted on the plan, drawing the council's attention to areas it had otherwise missed.

"I'm hoping to see that conversation continue into the Long-Term Plan we have coming up," he said.

"The conversation's only the beginning of the journey."

Daikee added that accessibility shortfalls often exist due to a lack of knowledge and encouraged people to get in contact with the council, councillors, or the Accessibility for All forum to let them know of any problems.

"We are here to listen to them, please bring them to us. We don't know if we don't know."

He also said that if enough people were not happy with the current facilities, council could have an independent accessibility audit done for the district, a move that Rollo also wanted to see happen in Nelson.

But in the meantime, Jill planned to continue striving for better facilities.

"I will keep fighting tooth and nail. Unless somebody keeps speaking up, and creating a nuisance in a way, nothing's going to change."

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