A casual stroll down Oxford St turned into a nightmare for Tasman district councillor Stu Bryant last week when his vision suddenly became “impaired” during a workshop aimed at highlighting the accessibility challenges faced by people living with disabilities.
Stu joined mayor Richard Kempthorne, councillors Kit Maling, Anne Turley, David Ogilvie, Dana Wensley and Dean McNamara as well as council staff and representatives from Accessibility 4 All for last Wednesday’s tour of Richmond’s central business district. They used wheelchairs, goggles that impaired vision, crutches, ear muffs and a mobility scooter during the hour-long journey and found out just how “scary” narrow footpaths on Oxford St, sandwich board “clutter” and overhanging trees can be for people with disabilities.
“It was very, very difficult,” Stu says. “I have very good vision so it was a real shock.
“It was very challenging walking on the narrow footpath and quite scary with the cars being so close. The overhanging vegetation was also an issue – a lot of it was head high so it was a real hazard.”
Visually impaired councillors who toured Queen St cited “sandwich board clutter” as one of the biggest challenges while councillors with mobility issues battled narrow doorways and steep ramps off footpaths. Street furniture and grey rubbish bins were also a problem for the visually impaired who had difficulty sighting the dull colours.
“There’s too many things on the footpath to deal with – there’s so much visual clutter,” Dana says. “If there was some consistency it would be a lot better.”
A4A and Blind Citizens New Zealand representatives Brian Say and Kaye Halkett encouraged councillors to prohibit sandwich boards.
“Eighty-five per cent of councils around the country have banned sandwich boards and Tasman should do the same,” Brian told councillors. “People don’t read them, they just trip over them.”
Although Wednesday’s tour gave councillors a good indication of accessibility challenges faced by people with disabilities, Kaye warned that “it was a quiet day at a quieta time of year and it’s a different proposition on a busy day”.
Dana says the good news is that the new redeveloped Queen St will incorporate a number of design features that will make life easier for people with disabilities.
“We have had input from groups through the A4A forum when the upgrade was being planned,” Dana says. “I think council is stepping up but we needed to.”