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New tools to make nature more accessible in New Zealand

woman in wheelchair with assistant in garden

People planning to head outdoors now have a resource that lets them know how accessible an area is for people with varying levels of mobility, Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage announced today.

The Halberg Foundation, Sensibel, and the Department of Conservation (DOC) have launched Accessibel, a new tool which helps communicate the accessibility of walkways, waterways and cycle ways. Initially places in Dunedin and Christchurch are profiled, with the plan to extend across New Zealand.

“These online tools will enable people with differing levels of mobility to understand the spaces and terrain to help plan their next outdoor adventure” said Eugenie Sage.

“Everyone in New Zealand should be able to enjoy and experience nature. Spending time outdoors is crucial for wellbeing. However, one of the most common barriers for people with mobility and disability considerations is a lack of information on how accessible a recreation area will be, relevant to their needs.

“For some people, planning their next trip outdoors can be as simple as picking a spot on a map, checking the weather, leaving intentions and packing the right supplies. For those with mobility or disability considerations there are many other factors to consider – is the walkway wheelchair or pram friendly, are there barriers between the carpark and track, what is the surface of the track like, will there be suitable toilets.

“Accessibel will be able to give people that information before they’ve left the comfort of home – and help them plan future adventures.”

Accessibel has been about three years in the making. Its genesis lies in all three partner organisations having a vision for a more accessible New Zealand. In 2016, DOC and Halberg sought to understand a Great Walk experience from the perspective of a disabled person, other track users and from an infrastructure perspective.

The late Merle Bradley – an avid tramper until her diagnosis of Motor Neuron Disease, traversed part of the Abel Tasman Great Walk using an all-terrain wheelchair with a support crew.

That trial led the partners to a workshop with older people and people who live with disability, to understand their needs and aspirations in the outdoors.  Added to this was lots of thinking and exploration from Christchurch software developer Carl Pavletich and his company, Sensibel.

From there, the support and enthusiasm from many different organisations has led the development of the tools to where they are today. The Dunedin City Council (DCC) was one of the initial funders for the product development, alongside Central Lakes Trust and the New Plymouth City Council. Now DCC is the first council partner, and by embracing the technology it is enabling recreation opportunities to a broader community. Other Councils are also interested in partnering with Accessibel.

Eugenie Sage says the incredible work of the Halberg Foundation and Sensibel alongside DOC cannot be overstated. “The partnership empowers more people to make informed decisions, and enables them to enjoy great New Zealand landscapes.”

Today’s launch is just the starting point, Eugenie Sage says. “As this technology comes of age, DOC is already working on other ways to support a more inclusive New Zealand.”

“As more councils join the partnership the tools will go from strength to strength ultimately working towards more equitable recreation information across all public land for all,” said Eugenie Sage.

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