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Welcome mat rolled out for all beach lovers

Flagstaff Team

On the mat… Devonport-Takapuna Local Board chair Aidan Bennett and Stephanie Hartley at the opening of the new access facility

Accessing the beach has become a lot easier at Takapuna, thanks to a new mat rolled out on the sand for this summer.

The mat will make wheelchair and pushchair access easier. It will also be firmer under foot than soft sand for those who are unsteady or use walking sticks, opening up enjoyment of the beach to children and adults who have previously found visits difficult.

The mat, a first for Auckland, is sited near the playground, where the Gould Reserve public toilets, showers and changing rooms will also be upgraded.

The Devonport-Takapuna Local Board this month signed off on the toilet block becoming only the third of its kind in New Zealand to include an official ‘Changing Rooms’ facility, set up to cater for the high needs of individuals and their carers who cannot use standard disabled toilets.

The beach mat is in place until Easter and will be brought out again for next Labour Weekend. It will run along the side of the playground, towards the sea.

“We have always dreamed of Takapuna being the most accessible beach in Auckland,” says Sonia Thursby, chief executive of YES Disability Resource Centre, which is among groups that have worked with Auckland Council to get the mat in place.

“People who use wheelchairs, walkers and have mobility restrictions can now easily access our beautiful beach.”

The group’s aim is to see mats at more beaches to cater for the one in four New Zealanders living with some kind of disability or impairment.

The mat cost $30,000 and is made of recycled plastic.

Its usefulness was highlighted at a brief event last Saturday that acknowledged the support of a local couple in funding it. Chris and Jackie Reeve, who paid for the Takapuna Beach playground that opened in 2016, are also giving $200,000 to provide the Changing Rooms facility. Auckland Council has adjusted its planned toilet block design to include it, with work scheduled to begin next year.

Jackie Reeve attended the local-board meeting where Devonport resident and accessible travel blogger Kimberly Graham, made a presentation about Changing Rooms and the big difference they could make to people’s lives. Reeve told the Observer later that when she and her husband heard about the facilities and checked them out they decided to contribute.

The special toilet will include a ceiling hoist and a full-sized changing table.

Graham, who has a son in a wheelchair, explained the difficulties faced by some people in the community. “Toileting is the biggest problem; you have to be pretty able to use them.”

People lacking in upper-body strength were unable to hoist themselves across from wheelchairs and some disabled toilets did not have adequate room for caregivers to assist. There was a need for a network of special facilities for those with more complex or profound disabilities, she said, and the Changing Places NZ Trust was lobbying for this.

Australia had recently legislated for Changing Places facilities in larger public buildings, she said, and had 150 such facilities. England has more than 1500. Access is arranged electronically to ensure the facilities are not vandalised.

This article originally appeared in the 22 January 2021 edition of the Rangitoto Observer.

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