Doors not wide enough for wheelchairs

Disabled bear brunt of housing shortage

KELLY DENNETT
Last updated 05:00 13/03/2014
Helen Ralph
HOUSING PROBLEM: Helen Ralph, 67, says her Glen Eden Housing New Zealand home is inadequate for her needs.

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People with physical disabilities are bearing the brunt of a state housing shortage because of a lengthy housing modification system, disability advocates say.

They're speaking out as two Glen Eden residents protest at the standard of their Housing New Zealand accommodation.

Lata Pereira, 36, moved into a 1970s state house six weeks ago with her mother Helen Ralph, 67, after their previous private rental went on the market.

Ms Ralph uses a wheelchair after suffering a stroke and Miss Pereira receives regular dialysis treatments.

The pair turned down two other HNZ properties that lacked appropriate wheelchair access before being offered a third in Glen Eden.

Miss Pereira says she was told they couldn't view the house beforehand because contractors were working on it but were assured it had adequate access.

The front door has a lift but family members have had to make modifications to the property themselves including removing bedroom, kitchen and toilet doors and installing a railing in the toilet.

Ms Ralph's wheelchair size has been decreased in order for her to fit properly through door frames but she says she often gets bruised arms from banging into walls.

Miss Pereira has made multiple calls to HNZ and says the lack of help has been disappointing.

"They basically said it's not our problem and that it's built to specification."

Prospective tenants with physical disabilities are typically aided by occupational therapists who let HNZ know what modifications are needed and arrange Ministry of Health funding.

Houses constructed in the last 10 years are built to universal design standards including larger doorways, bathrooms and hallways but older properties require modifications.

Miss Pereira says a therapist never visited the house and is puzzled at HNZ's claim that contractors were working on the accommodation because the house has holes in the floor and scuff marks on the walls.

CCS Disability Action senior co-ordinator Fiona MacDonald says part of the problem is a shortage of houses in general, let alone ones with disability access.

"My issue is that you can't get people into housing to modify it and you can't modify private rentals so we're left between a rock and a hard place," she says.

Often it's up to the individuals to find out the information they need to move forward, she says.

Disability Pathways founder Karen Tait is surprised Miss Pereira wasn't given more support from HNZ but says modifications can take years with tenants sometimes having to do it themselves.

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"It's all about people getting in touch with people, letters and quotes being written and approved, going backwards and forwards.

"You have to be persistent."

HNZ West Auckland regional manager Neil Adams says Miss Pereira's three bedroom property "already has full wheelchair access, a lift for wheelchair access and a wet area shower with hand rails" but they will work with the family if an occupational therapy assessment confirms further modifications are needed.

- Western Leader

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