Beach trips are a traditional part of our summers, but for some Kiwis and their family members living with disabilities, it can be a limiting experience.
It is society, not the deficiency of the individual, that is disabling. Thus, it is society that should be enabling.
But after an able-bodied woman suffered a serious leg injury on a beach mat, there is now concerns that Auckland City Council and other councils across the country could review the provision of such mats.
Any such decision must take into account the rights of persons with disabilities. These rights are found in international human rights law and in New Zealand’s own law.
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The rights of persons with disabilities are protected by international human rights law generallywhich recognizes that all are born equal and that all have the right to be free from discrimination.
More dedicated protection is found at the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006which New Zealand accepted in 2008.
The convention prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, which it describes as the interaction of persons with disabilities and attitudinal and environmental barriers.
It also requires countries to take steps to ensure accessibility to a range of spaces and services for people with disabilities on an equal basis with those of people without disabilities.
let’s be reasonable
These rights, like most other rights, must be balanced against other considerations. A key concept here is Reasonable accommodation.
This means that necessary and appropriate changes must be made to enable people with disabilities to enjoy their rights on an equal basis with others. But these changes should not impose a disproportionate or undue burden.
A Optional protocol to the convention was also adopted in 2006, which means that complaints can be lodged by individuals with the UN. New Zealand accepted this agreement in 2016.
the New Zealand International Human Rights Action Plan 2019-2023 also prioritizes the country’s leadership role in advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities.
At the domestic level, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 affirms that everyone has the right to be free from discrimination and that Human Rights Act 1993 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.
Domestic law also includes the Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994which established both the role of the Health and Disability Commissioner and a Health Services and Disability Services Consumer Rights Code.
One of the goals of the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000 is to promote the inclusion, societal participation and autonomy of people with disabilities. the Disability Act 2008 (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) was adopted for the purpose of giving effect to New Zealand’s obligations under the UN Convention.
the New Zealand Disability Strategy 2016-2026 guides the work of government agencies on disability issues.
The strategy is informed by the UN Convention. It is also informed by Te Tiriti o Waitangi, reflecting the cultural significance of whānau and a whānau-centric approach to the concepts of family and disability.
the Disability action plan 2019-2023 aims to implement the Disability Strategy and the UN Convention.
Designing public spaces for everyone
These legal obligations and policy measures also extend to local authorities. The decisions of these authorities regarding access to public spaces can have a profound impact on the rights of persons with disabilities.
The provision of beach mats and/or wheelchairs is a practical example that allows people with disabilities to access the sand and the sea.
But councils can think bigger by also providing mobility spaces suitable for all users, appropriately designed walkways and ramps that lead to accessible seating, shaded areas and picnic areas. area, as well as public toilets that can be used by people with disabilities and their caregivers.
There is particular room for improvement with the latter and calls for advice to build fully accessible bathrooms to accommodate people with multiple or complex disabilities.
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Cost may well be a concern, but disabled beach access should not be presented as an additional option. Ensuring the safety of all beach users will be a primary consideration, as will the protection of the natural environment.
A diverse and inclusive society means everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at all times. Failure to do so has its own costs.
New Zealand Herald readers just voted Ohope Beach like new zealand best beach in 2021. One of the reasons given was that everyone – from paddleboarders to kitesurfers to wheelchair users – is welcome in Ōhope.
For many New Zealanders a dip in the ocean on summer days is simple pleasure but for some it is simply lifestyle change.