Rolling Without Limits

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Christchurch Still Struggling With Access-Related Issues
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Christchurch Still Struggling With Access-Related Issues

Even six years after the 2011 earthquake that took place in Christchurch, New Zealand, local people in wheelchairs still have to deal with access-related issues.

Wheelchair user Johnny Bourke recently completed a research study that focused on the seemingly unending barriers that people in wheelchairs are putting up with several years after the Canterbury earthquakes.

Mr. Bourke, a Canterbury University Ph.D. student, surveyed over 60 people with wheelchairs throughout 2015 and 2016. He found that mobility had become more arduous than it was before the earthquakes.

He discovered various barriers including inaccessible businesses, shops, and even housing for people in wheelchairs. However, the most often mentioned obstruction was physical disruption caused by roads and footpaths.

For instance, going along a footpath just to find a big (road work) fence at the end. And as if that weren't enough, there's no drop-down ramp to help people in wheelchairs cross the road, Mr. Bourke explained.

While the full body of his research was completed just last week, pieces of it have already been published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction.

Based on his personal experience, Mr. Bourke claimed more than half of the barriers mentioned in his research still exist in the city as of 2017, and Christchurch was expected to continue rebuilding for a long time into the future.

After injuring his spinal cord in 1994, Robin Tinga has been relying solely on a manual wheelchair for mobility. He admitted that accessibility in the city was relatively worse than it was prior to the 2011 earthquake.

Things can get quite laborious, according to Mr. Tinga. In fact, wheelchair users are highly likely to get frustrated having no fight left and just give up because "it's too hard."

Mobility wasn't actually a challenge for Mr. Tinga because he could simply haul himself over barriers making his way along a run-down pathway. But unlike him, he noted there are a lot of people with wheelchairs who simply avoid coming out as they believe it is inaccessible.

According to international research, social connectivity is important for people's welfare after a disaster. However, quite a few people with wheelchairs were left to feel secluded, Mr. Bourke said.

Participants were keen on accessing the places that were relevant to them, meet their friends and families, but they encountered physical barriers while getting to those places and it prevented them from communicating on a social level. That affected their well-being and the benefits associated with social interaction.

Spearheaded by Amy Hartnell, the Earthquake Disability Leadership Group has been toiling to improve accessibility in Christchurch after the 2011 earthquakes.

As soon as the rebuild was completed, she said, access to the city was expected to be comparatively better than it was before the earthquake, but that wasn't the case. In fact, people were feeling abandoned at the time.

It's no secret that the majority of these works are transitory, but Hartnell pops the question, "what is temporary six years on?" In other words, this does make access quite hard.

According to Hartnell, temporary structures can be revamped by building improvements either around them or where a development is already taking place and the walkway needs to be closed.

Ōtākaro Limited, the government agency managing the city's anchor projects said access near construction sites was inspected during routine checks. The agency also guaranteed all completed projects would be aptly accessible.

Aaron Haymes, Christchurch City Council transport operations manager noted that the damage to the city footpaths and streets after the earthquakes not only affected people with disabilities but also able-bodied people.

Mr. Haymes says the effects of this disruption were obviously worse for people with a wheelchair and other differently-abled persons. However, he said the situation was not expected to improve anytime soon, either.

With public and private sectors joining forces in the bid to rebuild the city, Mr. Haymes believes they are making better progress now. The community can count on the situation changing constantly as each project comes to fruition one at a time, he added.

(Image: Simon Smiler/flickr)

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