Our Relationship with Disability

Our Relationship with Disability

Shona & Allan

Many of our closest and dearest friends have lived with  disabilities.

We have specialised in Disability Support for well over 40 years, in both the volunteer and business related sector.

Shona’s Background: Nurse, trained and worked in the now closed down Opotiki Hospital. I lived in Singapore for several years while my late husband Ken Hudson served in Vietnam.

Allan: Bushman, machine operator, truck and bus driver. Adult apprentice in Pulp and paper making as well as 2nd Class Boiler Operator. Shona and I have involved ourselves in several successful businesses, but we are peoples persons rather than a business or professional people. Hate balance sheets, spread sheets and almost every other activity associated with the office.

Married in 1976.  Shortly thereafter invited a friend (Hone) who had suffered a bush accident and become tetraplegic, to come from the Spinal Unit in Otara and live with us in a granny flat in our Whakatane house. In those days the Spinal Unit would have been his permanent home, there was very little in the way of community support.

This was a U-turn in our lives. It was the first time I (Allan) had even pushed a wheelchair. (An art in itself)

We became disgusted at the way Disabled people in those days were treated by the government, the Health system and community in general. In the ensuing 40 odd years, things have improved 1000%, and we like to feel behind the scenes we have been involved in several such improvements.

We developed, built, and managed for 20 years the first residential home/hospital in NZ (Thornton Park Opotiki) to receive government funding for all age groups and disabilities.  (This was when such funding was through both Social Welfare. Jenny Shipley was Minister of Social Welfare, and ACC when accidents had been involved in the cause of the disability) This unique situation lead us beyond the Nursing Home. A specialised  tour company evolved as other disable people wanted to travel and became aware of what we were doing. It became official and "Accessible kiwi Tours" was born. It became NZ’s leading tour company meeting the needs of inbound and local tourists with almost any disability.

Both these businesses were eventually sold, but not before Evac+Chair Distributors had evolved.

Our experience in meeting the needs of such a broad spectrum of disabilities made us very aware of the danger these people faced in emergency. It also made us very conscious of doing our best to foresee such dangers and plan the best we could for any emergency that might arise.

Imagine a light aircraft flying into Milford with 6 disabled on board and their wheelchairs stowed. Planning for emergency was taken very seriously.

Through the 1990s Accessibility standards started to kick in and as operators of Accessible Kiwi Tours, we were able to make many practical suggestions particularly for Tourist Services, and Accommodation providers. We could easily have branched into the lucrative consultancy side of such things but were simply too heavily involved in other interests.

Through the ensuing years many improvements have been made in accessibility as well as other disability related issues, but the journey is by no means complete.

In fact these improvements have led to, even amplified one particularly serious safety issue as yet unresolved.

New Zealand's buildings and services now have total access, but often NO safe egress.

To overcome this Allan designed and modified a wheelchair with special handles in front that doubled as a stretcher. He and a buddy could take a disabled person into and out of places they could never have gone, out on rocks fishing, into inaccessible caves, including up and down stairs. Probably the only wheelchair dependent people to go onto Whakaari (White Island) or through Waitomo Caves would have been with Accessible Kiwi Tours.

It was cumbersome but worked, however because of the huge variety of wheelchair designs it was not practical for general use. OSH came along in the early 90s we kept ours but put on hold developing the idea further.

Then on holiday in the UK in 2006 We saw an Evac+Chair. the answer to our prayers. A wheelchair that goes down stairs. We ended up bringing it back to NZ thinking “At last a solution, this will be embraced by all our emergency teams”.

Yeah right!!! Many years later. Evac+Chairs are deployed in most government departments, (Including Parliament itself) many DHBs, Universities, Councils, etc. But our Emergency management teams are still in the most part blind. Our human rights legislation hasn’t been changed. Equal access yes! But nothing about equal egress.

Our recent Earthquakes were a wake up call. Evac Chairs were used very successfully in several Christchurch establishments including one government office. They were also used in several Nursing homes around both Christchurch and Wellington. They have also proved very effective in power cuts.

The Fire Service itself (Now Fire and Emergency) as an organization has been very slow to come aboard. Every individual officer that has seen it in action loves it and is amazed at its simplicity and effectiveness.  But the organisation itself has been much slower coming around. However it is now recommending Evac+Chair as the best way to ensure total self-evacuation. That is what they want. They don’t want to be perceived by the community as rescuers, they want to get in to a building already totally evacuated and manage the emergency.

I would love to challenge the Fire Service. An 80 year old pensioner verses the strongest fittest young officer to bring a disabled person down 20 stories or so, using their conventional method.  As far as I know I am still the only person to bring anyone down the fire stairs of Skytower unassisted in under 12 minutes. (see Skytower Evacuation)