Wheelchair users find city a humiliating ride

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2012
bev edwards
KIRK HARGREAVES
FRIGHTENING: Earthquake survivor Bev Edwards, who lost the use of her legs in the February 2011 quake, has frequently tumbled out of her wheelchair and been forced to ride along busy streets as she navigates Christchurch.

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Some paraplegic earthquake survivors have tumbled out of their wheelchairs as they push their way around Christchurch's "inaccessible" and rugged terrain.

Wheelchair-bound paraplegic Bev Edwards is fed up with crash-landing out of her chair in public.

She is also fed up with what she calls inaccessible kerbing, steep footpaths and narrow car parks for the disabled littered throughout the city.

And she questions placing automatic teller machines in front of car parks for the disabled.

"It's human for able-bodied people to quickly pull up and use the ATM," she said.

The Christchurch nurse, who lost the use of her legs in the February 2011 quake, said the rebuilt city needed to better cater for the disabled, especially as the community had swelled since the quake.

She was last tossed from her wheelchair and left "humiliated", sprawled on the pavement, two weeks ago.

She rode down an exit ramp from a Colombo St shop and her front wheels jarred against the footpath lip, launching her from her chair.

Edwards has also been knocked to the ground at the Bush Inn Centre in Upper Riccarton while trying to make her way through the car park.

Despite grazing her wrists and elbows, she said, her body was not as bruised as her ego.

Fellow survivor Helen Grice, who was paralysed from the bra line down in the quake, has had her share of wheelchair scares. She has found herself veering dangerously towards the gutter while riding along footpaths and being forced on to busy roads because of a lack of footpath access.

The "sheer gruntiness" of Grice's powered wheelchair had saved her from some "very scary wobbles".

She was irritated by the city's narrow mobility parks, which were not big enough to cater for her modified van and automatic ramp.

At times, Grice has been so frustrated that she "swears like a sailor" looking for parks and has become so "disheartened" she ends up going home without even getting out of her car. "I feel like there is no place for me. We are just so limited to the choices we can make."

Both survivors hoped rebuilt Christchurch would be more disabled-friendly, but feared officials might try to "cut corners".

"Accessibility is something the city needs to look at very, very closely.

"There is not at all enough consideration for the disabled in Christchurch," Edwards said.

The Christchurch Central Development Unit's draft Accessible City transport plan was unveiled last month and promised rebuilt Christchurch would be "a more accessible and safer built environment" for not just the disabled, but also the elderly, the young and those with temporary mobility issues.

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"Greater accessibility should occur as public buildings, roads and footpaths are rebuilt to comply with current standards, which require more accessibility than many older structures," unit director Warwick Isaacs said.

Christchurch City Council general manager for city environment Jane Parfitt acknowledged some temporary structures might have problems as the rebuild sped up.

"Examples of this would be temporary ramps, non-paved surfaces, detours and the like."

However, the council was working to ensure there were no "cut corners".

"Should contractors or builders erect non-compliant structures, we will work with them to rectify the situation to the satisfaction of all the users of that particular facility or structure," Parfitt said.

- The Press

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