Mum calling for more disabled access ramps to the beach

Must See 31/01/2019

A self-described 'wheelchair mum' is calling for better Takapuna beach access so more families can enjoy a summer day at the beach together.

Over the Christmas holidays, Warkworth resident Rachel Peterson visited Mount Maunganui beach, which is equipped with a 60-metre-long polyester mat over the sand. The mat makes accessing the sea possible for wheelchair-users and others with limited mobility.

Ms Peterson said being able to enjoy the water on a balmy summer day with her six-year-old was liberating.

"The freedom to be able to get out of the car and take my little one down on to the beach without the need for staff - as normally I wait in the car and watch her with other people like family - was a total game-changer."

"I don't have the right words to be able to explain what it feels like for a mother and daughter to be able to do something so natural yet so impossible without that mat, it was definitely a beautiful moment."

So far, Mount Maunganui is the only beach in the country to have purchased such a mat, after Tauranga City Council's Community Development team took the initiative to trial one on loan from Australia in 2016.

Team lead Dani Jurgeleit told Newshub the reception for the mat, now back for a third summer, has been "overwhelmingly positive".

"We've heard numerous stories from people who have never been onto the beach before, as they couldn't get across the sand."

Ms Peterson, Community Relationship Manager at Albany-based Yes Disability Resource Centre, says she would love to see one of the mats installed closer to home.

She says it's a vision that Yes CEO Sonia Thirsby has had for a few years, and believes Takapuna Beach is a good place to start, as several centres and facilities that disabled people use regularly are in the area - along with an accessible playground, accessible toilets and accessible parking.

The concept also has the backing of Takapuna-based disability organisation Physically Disabled and Able-Bodied Association (PHAB) and disability health service the Wilson centre.

"The beach mat idea was floating around and had gone off the radar, but there's still the possibility it could be brought in," he told Newshub.

"I will be asking the questions - where is it, is there a planning project for it, ideally with a bit more of a push from the disability community."

Mr Cohen says that particularly considering the ageing population, beach access for disabled people merits closer attention.

"We need to work out how we can have a system where [disabled people] don't have to arrange days in advance - they can just decide it's a beautiful day and go to the beach with the rest of us to enjoy it."

Ms Peterson added that the mat would be a hit among disabled parents.

"At Yes, we had a focus group with about 20 disabled parents a couple months ago, and all of the parents agreed they wanted to be able to take their kids to the beach. It just needs a bit of creativity," Ms Peterson said.

"Yes disability Resource Centre will continue to talk with Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, to make sure beach access stays firmly on the agenda."

The beach access mat is located on Mount Maunganui Main Beach (next to the cenotaph, opposite Mount Drury) from December 17, and will stay there throughout the summer for everyone to enjoy.

A section of the mat or the whole mat may need to be rolled up if it will be affected by king tides.