Ministers in wheelchairs to support World Spinal Cord Injury Day

By Talisa Kupenga

To promote World Spinal Cord Injury Day and raise awareness of pressure injuries, Disabilities Minister Carmel Sepuloni and Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) Minister Iain Lees-Galloway have spent the day at parliament in wheelchairs.

The New Zealand Spinal Trust says the ministers will encounter challenges but build understanding though experience.

Meanwhile, the ministers say their work-wheelchair experience was no easy feat.

Disability Minister Carmel Sepuloni says, "Over the time that we've been in there's been measures put in place to make it more accessible but when you're in a wheelchair you actually realise how inaccessible it is."

ACC Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says, "Even getting your swipe card out for the lifts, getting your swipe card up to the lifts, I've gone for a couple of unexpected trips in the lift because I haven't got there fast enough."

The ministers' one-day campaign coincides with the launch of ACC's education videos for those with spinal cord injuries but questions have been asked whether or not the minister's campaign was appropriate.

NZ Spinal Trust Chief Executive Tuanui Hans Wouters says,”It's highly appropriate.  It's very important that people have a really good understanding of what it is to live life with a spinal cord injury especially if they're decision makers.”

Sepuloni says, "I was reluctant to do this at the beginning because I don't want to undermine a real wheelchair user's experiences but at the same time accessibility is an issue that is brought to me as Disability Minister all the time."

Accessibility issues which the ministers experienced first-hand today.

During question time the pair were seated in the aisles; a standing point of order replaced with a loud voice and raising their hand to be seen.

Sepuloni says, "Inevitably there will come a day when there is someone that is a member of parliament who is in a wheelchair and that will be a great day but this is a good way for parliament to experience how accessible they are as well and potentially take some learnings."

Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard says, "If there was a change in future they'd be in much better desk-type arrangements and seat-type arrangements either with a place to park their wheelchair or of people wanted to transfer out of their wheelchair."

ACC is working with the health sector to implement a pressure injury strategy which will continue over the next two to three years.