Disability Rights commissioner Paula Tesoriero suggests five ways in which local authorities could make cities more accessible for everyone.
Everyone has a need for accessibility at some point in their lives, from parents with young children in pushchairs, to older people, to disabled people. Nearly a quarter of New Zealanders identify as disabled, we have an ageing population and many people become disabled as they grow older. So, it is essential that our cities are designed to cater to the diversity of New Zealand today and in the future.
Currently, disabled people and others who have access needs face a range of issues in getting around cities. These include:
- physical environmental barriers, such as steep kerbs and uneven footpaths;
- limited access to, and on, public transport;
- a significant shortage of accessible housing;
- inaccessible buildings and public spaces limiting people’s access to goods and services; and
- inaccessible information in different formats such as Braille, New Zealand Sign Language and Easy Read.
This lack of access impacts on the ability of disabled people to fully participate in their communities; to get to and from work, school and community events.
Conversely, an accessible city is one where everyone can move around freely without such barriers, a place in which the environment, goods and services and information is able to be used by all citizens.
We all benefit from accessibility, when our friends, neighbours, classmates and co-workers are able to fully contribute to society without barriers.
Everyone should be able to live a fulfilling life in their communities, where everyone can contribute their skills, creativity and innovation.
Public buildings, transport and the urban environment will also benefit tourists with disabilities.
Tourism alone directly contributed $12.8 billion to GDP in the year ending March 2016. Improving access will not only improve participation for New Zealanders, but also have positive flow-on effects for visiting tourists and our country’s economy.
So how can local government work together to make cities more accessible for everyone who uses them? There is no silver bullet; it is a multi-layered approach.
Utilise the New Zealand Disability Strategy
The Disability Strategy provides a vision for a non-disabling, fully-accessible future for disabled people. One of the outcome areas relates to accessibility, including in cities. There is therefore an opportunity to consider how the Disability Strategy and accessibility considerations fit into your annual and long-term planning.
Integrate your strategies
Currently, there are multiple strategies targeted at child-friendly cities, age-friendly cities and disability-friendly cities, a large part of which relates to accessibility. This is because there is so much cross-over between these groups.
It would be beneficial to have one overall strategy which encompasses all of these groups.
This will both make things more straightforward because all information will be in one place, and also mean it is easier to see the benefits to all groups together rather than each separately.
Engage with citizens in innovative ways
One way to do this is through co-design – a process which aims to actively involve all stakeholders in the design process to ensure the result fully meets their needs and has their buy-in.
Christchurch City Council did something like this through its “Share an Idea” process which formed the basis of its Central City Recovery Plan.
Currently, the Ministry of Health is using it to transform its Disability Support System with positive results; there are useful examples to learn from.
Practise inclusive employment practices
One way to improve access is to commit to employing people who live with a disability as part of your staff, including in leadership positions.
The make-up and operation of organisations around the country should reflect the communities in which they operate – at every level and in every way.
Encourage diversity in the local council
Having disabled local board members and councillors has the potential to make a huge difference for accessibility, because they’d be able to bring such a unique and first-hand perspective to the issue. It is therefore important diverse candidates are encouraged to stand for election.
This article was first published in the April 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.