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Paralympic hero seeks accessible city

Silver medallist Paralympian Ross Flood says it’s not only important to have an accessible Auckland City – it’s crucial.

“The population is aging so it’s not only wheelchair users who will benefit from greater access to the city,” he says. “Elderly people unsteady on their feet and young parents pushing prams will find it easier to walk about.”

Ross claimed glory at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens competing in boccia, a sport similar to bowls designed for people in wheelchairs. A communications assistant at AUT University, he will be part of AUT’s team joining Auckland City Council, Vodafone and IBM teams in ‘Mission Accessible’ this Thursday, December 1.

The 53-year-old was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months old after contracting encephalitis (brain inflammation caused by a virus). He says wheelchair access makes good economic sense.

“When I was young I was unique when I ventured out into society in a wheelchair. Today’s generation of wheelchair users are more accepted into mainstream. They’re better educated than previous generations, which translates into jobs and therefore money to spend.

“Naturally, they need access to shops, restaurants and theatres to spend their money. An accessible city is a win-win situation.”

Ross says there are still many shops in the city with entrance steps which he finds frustrating.

“They’re a barricade to what otherwise would be a completely accessible shop. Those little steps are definitely ‘unwelcome mats’ for wheelchair users.”

He also finds it annoying when people illegally park in mobility parking spaces.

Ross says Auckland City is far along the path in creating an accessible city.

“Today’s wheelchair users and future generations are and will be more demanding of their rights, so pressure will increase to ensure an accessible city.

“It means a lot to me to support AUT’s team. To have a day like this is vital to highlight what needs to be done. It’s like saying, ‘Here I am. I’m part of this community, so how about breaking down these barriers so I can contribute?’”

Ross looks forward to the day when he doesn’t have to pre-plan where to park, what shops he can enter and where he can cross the street without thinking about safety of the kerbs.

“My family taught me anything’s possible but I was delighted to come home from the Paralympics to find the younger generation was inspired by our performance. One of the highlights for me was to be shaken by the hand enthusiastically by able-bodied strangers who saw, perhaps for the first time, our capability rather than our disability.”

Mission Accessible – December 1, 2005
11.45am Performance by Touch Compass Dance Troupe
QEII Square (www.touchcompass.org.nz)
12pm Wheelchair abseil down the Mercure Hotel
12.10pm Teams leave to complete challenges around the central city
1pm High wire traverse at the Auckland City Art Gallery
2pm Teams arrive at AUT University campus


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