Accessibility and universal design not part of Building Act reforms

With just one ramp in his home, Pusa Finau says he would not survive if a fire broke out simply because he would have no way of getting out.

The Porirua man became paralysed after a spinal cord operation in 2001. Since then, he has become an advocate for people with disabilities and works with Housing Action Porirua Group.

Before the operation, he never thought about what people with disabilities experienced.

Now, he notices uneven footpaths, unsafe crossings and the things in houses that make it hard for people with disabilities to navigate.

Disability rights advocates say there are "pockets" of Wellington that are accessible but a more holistic approach needs to be taken to accessibility in the capital. ...

Finau said a lot of the homes in his area did not have appropriate door knobs, and entrances and hallways were too narrow.

A lot of homes were simply not built for people with disabilities and an ageing population, he said.

"New houses need to be built to our needs ... it's hard at the moment for people with disabilities to find suitable homes," Finau said.

"There are different kind of needs now. The Government needs to look around at the population and talk with us before they make decisions."

Minister for building and construction Jenny Salesa said she recognised the importance of improving the accessibility of homes and appreciated the concerns and support for houses to be inclusive for vulnerable and diverse populations.

Of the 470 submissions received during the consultation process for potential reforms to the Building Act, five mentioned accessibility through universal design.

"At this point, accessibility is not currently part of the reforms to the Building Act that are planned over the coming months," Salesa said.

Disabled Persons Assembly NZ kaituitui Bronwyn Haines said it was a shame that universal design principles - the design of spaces that can be accessed and used by people of all ages, size and abilities - were not being considered.

Before his operation, Pusa Finau says he did not think about how people with disabilities navigated footpaths, crossings, shops and homes.
Before his operation, Pusa Finau says he did not think about how people with disabilities navigated footpaths, crossings, shops and homes.

In order for the country's housing stock to meet the needs of its population, especially its ageing population, a systematic approach was important and had to be supported at the highest possible level, she said.

Through her own experiences and hearing about other people's house hunting stories, it was "incredibly difficult" to find fully accessible housing in Wellington.

"People have had to make concessions on what they will accept in terms of accessibility, which really impacts on people's lives," Haines said.

However fully accessible housing was not a problem specific to Wellington.

"We need to continue to consider universal design as an essential principle in all new legislation and changes to legislation." ​

Victoria University of Wellington's deputy head of the school of architecture Maibritt Pedersen Zari said there was no reason why some new builds could not be accessible to to older people and those with disabilities.

"The more inclusive we can be, the better our city will be. The more barriers we can remove, the better."

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