Opinion: Parliament only for the able-bodied

Opinion: Parliament only for the able-bodied

You'd expect the place where New Zealand's laws are made to have pretty good accessibility for those of us who aren't as able-bodied as we'd like to be.

But you'd be wrong to assume that. I didn't realise how unfriendly the corridors of power actually are when you're in a wheelchair, have limited mobility, or just can't use stairs.

I've been wheeling around the halls on a knee scooter for two weeks now, after I ruptured my achilles (I'm not made for netball, I discovered).

While there are some good facilities for those who are hearing impaired, or vision impaired, it's not the best place to get around if your lower limbs don't work.

It's fair to say I was entirely ignorant of mobility and accessibility before my injury and I assumed Parliament was pretty mobility-friendly, especially since it has a gold rating by social change initiative Be. Accessible, whose mission is to make all of New Zealand truly accessible.

But I've found it really hard to get around. There's no elevator to the press gallery, most of the doors don't have automatic opening, and most of them are narrow, heavy, and close quickly behind you.

The elevators in Parliament House are tiny and I can barely get in there with the scooter. It must be on a diagonal. Getting out is even harder. I've resorted to reversing the scooter in.

Most of the toilets close to the press gallery aren't equipped with handrails or bigger stalls (I'll let you use your imagination) and the closest accessible restroom is at the bottom of the stairs, which doesn't have an elevator.

To get there, I have to travel across to Parliament House, down the whips' corridor, over the bridge into the Beehive, into the elevator, down to ground floor, out into reception, down the corridor to the Museum Street entrance, and into the accessible toilet by the gym.

It's probably good to point out here that the more you travel, the more static electricity you build up, meaning every door handle, elevator button, and swipe point that I touch, I get an almighty electric shock. (I've tried to prevent this by taping a chain of paper clips to the bottom of my scooter, with limited success. A car static strip is yet to prove its worth too).

Don't get me wrong, I'm lucky in many ways. I've certainly got it easier than those who don't have a knee scooter and are resigned to crutches or a walking frame, and those whose mobility restrictions aren't temporary.

But next time you're out and about, have a look around and see if your surroundings are mobility friendly. Is there an elevator? Or stair lift? Are the ground surfaces smooth? Are the doors easy to get through? Are the bathrooms accessible? Sizable?

City planners have a lot to answer for as well: steep curb crossings, non-existent curb dips unpaved pathways in parks, potholes, uneven cobblestones, uneven pavement, no pavement, the list goes on.