We’d like seaside entry for everybody, and that features folks with a disability

OPINION: Beach trips are a traditional part of our summers, but for some Kiwis and their family members who live with a disability, this can be a limiting experience.

Around every fourth New Zealander is disabled. Their disability does not arise from their impairments, but from having to live in a world designed by people who believe that everyone is equal.

It is society, not the impairment of the individual, that hinders. So it is society that should make it possible.

Examples of enabling measures include efforts to enable people with disabilities to access the beach by installing beach mats for wheelchairs or providing beach wheelchairs.

Ripu Bhatia uses a wheelchair to explore a new access route on Takapuna Beach.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Ripu Bhatia uses a wheelchair to explore a new access route on Takapuna Beach.

* Woman calls for the removal of the disabled beach mat after a foot injury, supporters defend it
* Auckland’s first disabled access mat installed on Takapuna Beach

But after a working woman sustained a serious leg injury on a beach mat, there are now concerns that Auckland City Council and other city councils across the country may review the provision of such mats.

Rights for the disabled

Such decisions must take into account the rights of people with disabilities. These rights are found in international human rights law and New Zealand law.

The rights of people with disabilities are generally protected by international human rights law, which recognizes that everyone is born equal and that everyone has the right to be free from discrimination.

More specific protection can be found in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of 2006, which New Zealand accepted in 2008.

The convention prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, which it describes as the interaction of people with disabilities, attitudes and environmental barriers.

Countries must also take measures to ensure that people with disabilities have access to a range of spaces and services on an equal footing with those of non-disabled people.

Let’s be sensible

These rights, like most other rights, must be weighed against other considerations. A key concept here is reasonable accommodation.

This means that necessary and appropriate changes should be made to enable people with disabilities to enjoy their rights on an equal footing with others. However, such changes should not be a disproportionate or unreasonable burden.

An Optional Protocol to the Convention was also adopted in 2006, which means that individuals can lodge complaints with the United Nations. New Zealand accepted this agreement in 2016.

New Zealand’s International Human Rights Action Plan 2019-2023 also prioritizes the country’s leadership in advocating the rights of people with disabilities.

At the national level, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 states that everyone has the right to be free from discrimination, and the Human Rights Act 1993 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.

National law also includes the Health and Disability Commissioner Act of 1994, which establishes both the role of the Health and Disability Commissioner and a code of consumer rights for health and disability services.

One of the goals of the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000 is to promote the inclusion, participation and independence of people with disabilities. The 2008 Disability Act (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) was passed with the aim of enforcing 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 determined by the UN convention. It is also briefed by Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which reflects the cultural meaning of whānau and a whānau-centered approach to family and disability concepts.

The Disability Action Plan 2019-2023 is intended to implement the Disability Strategy and the UN Convention.

Create public spaces for everyone

These legal obligations and policies also extend to local authorities. The decisions made by these authorities about access to public spaces can have a profound impact on the rights of people with disabilities.

The provision of beach mats and / or wheelchairs is a practical example that enables people with disabilities to access the sand and sea.

However, councils can think bigger by also providing mobility spaces that are suitable for all users, appropriately designed walkways and curb ramps leading to accessible seating, shaded areas and picnic areas, and public toilets used by people with disabilities and their carers can.

The latter offers particular room for improvement and calls on the councils to build fully accessible bathrooms for people with multiple or complex disabilities.

Cost can be an issue, but beach access for people with disabilities shouldn’t be offered as an optional extra. Ensuring the safety of all beach users will be paramount, as will protecting the natural environment.

A diverse and inclusive society means that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at all times. Otherwise you will incur your own costs. For many New Zealanders, a swim in the ocean on summer days is an easy pleasure, but for some it is simply life changing.

Claire Breen is Professor of Law at the University of Waikato

This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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