I have just returned from 10 days in New Zealand. A beautiful country and described by many as “God’s little Acre” – I’m sure “Aotearoa” needs little or no introduction to you. It is stunningly beautiful and unspoiled in almost every way. However (and here’s the thing) …my time there was spoiled!
Unfortunately, I’m going to be rather critical of what should have been a seamless relaxing break. Let me say at the outset, I am a Kiwi. I grew up there, know the country inside/out. I have over the years worked tirelessly to improve the plight of persons with a disability. I take no kudos, nor do I wish for any recognition. I was involved with the NZ Government and their very first “Think Tank” on accessibility and disability many years ago. I was proud to be invited to the table, to offer my meagre input.
Australia is streets ahead today, sadly. The inroads that have been made here, leave NZ for dust. Once again, this has been due to successive governments being prepared to ‘grow a pair’ and get on with the job of making accessibility somewhat of a priority. But, yep, there’s a big but. This sadly seems to have faded into oblivion. One almost gets the feeling of “well, we’ve done enough to shut the commentators up for now” and the attention has turned elsewhere. Yes, there are significant inroads here: public transport, building access, workplace access, but it sadly has not gone far enough. People still struggle on a daily basis just to get across the road, let alone even think about going on holiday. This becomes a logistical nightmare: finding suitable accommodation, an airline that is going to be sympathetic to the person with the disability and their carer, and not throwing ‘roadblocks’ in their faces just because it is in their ‘too hard basket’
My intention here is not to make comparisons between Australia or New Zealand, or any other country for that matter, because accessibility is universal and it should be nothing less. In my opinion, it is just the variance and interpretation that differs! Unfortunately there seems to be a lack of guidelines when it comes to this. Airlines, cruise ships, train travel and rental car companies all have their own interpretation and the variance is huge! What needs to be addressed again, some 40 years on from its inception, is the United Nations Charter. The International Year of the Disabled came to light in 1981 and it was a huge leap forward. The hardest part of this was education and sadly, this is still the case in 2016. I digress! Before leaving for NZ, I needed to make sure that my accommodation was going to be fully accessible. Sadly this was not the case and even sadder was this involved an international 4.5 star hotel chain. I called this particular chain to confirm that my room was fully accessible. I was informed that this hotel pride themselves on having full access. Well, I do not know what their definition of full access is, but sadly it was far from acceptable. Now, most would just accept this as the norm…I did not! I refused to pay their rate stating that I would have chosen another establishment but as it was late, cold and wet (that’s New Zealand for ya!) and the staff that were on duty when I arrived, had gone above and beyond their station, to make my stay as comfortable as they could, I decided to let it slide. As I said, the staff were exceptional all doing what it took to assist. Free breakfast and drink vouchers. Honestly, yes! I was very appreciative of this gesture, but all they were doing was putting a band-aid on a severely embarrassing situation. When it came time to check out, the Executive Manager was waiting at the reception desk, wanting to know if everything had been to my satisfaction. I made it very clear it was not! I explained that it was a disgrace! What could they do to improve? was the question. I simply said go look at other hotels in the chain to see how to get it right. Also said I was not paying. No problem, they did not want any fuss as they knew they were not up to standard!
As for the rental car company, they were faultless and could not have done enough. Other motels and hotels have a very different view on access so the lesson here is BEWARE! Then I visited my old mate who runs a dive charter business. I was his guinea-pig for a new hoist he’s developed and prided himself on being fully accessible. It was pure magic. Yep! that’s me on his boat!