Wheelchair access next thing for Abel Tasman?

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Wheelchair users may be able to tackle the Abel Tasman following investigations into accessibility within the national park.

The Department of Conservation has just completed a three-day wheelchair access trial on the Abel Tasman Coast Track with the assistance of the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation and Merle Bradley, a wheelchair user who enjoys outdoor adventures with the support of her friends and family.

DOC Partnership Manager Jonathan Thomas says that as part the Department’s involvement in the Healthy Nature Healthy People programme, they want to see more people participating in outdoor activities on public conservation land.

“That means considering the needs of people with mobility issues,” he says.  

“About a quarter of New Zealand’s population, 1.1 million people, lives with a disability. 14% of the population lives with some sort of physical impairment and for people over the age of 65, that number climbs to 49%”. 

DOC currently provides many accessible short tracks, but for many people with limited mobility, seeing special places such as the Great Walks is not currently within their reach.

Jonathan says that using “off-road” wheeled mobility equipment has meant that people with disabilities, with support, have reached Mt Everest Base Camp and the summit of Mt Kilamanjaro.  

“We’re interested in finding out what sort of information and support people with mobility issues need when they are planning to challenge themselves on a longer trails. Another outcome of the trial will be information about how DOC facilities cope with the needs of people with mobility issues.”

During the trial three “off-road” wheelchairs have been tested, two nights were spent in DOC huts, and a total of 24km was covered. 

The feedback from the trial will help inform DOC’s investment programme for tracks and facilities.