Taranaki Disability Centre Wins Award

Two people on side by side scooter

Brian Ericksen with the new side-by-side two-seater scooter he is trialling for use at New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park and Coastal Walkway.

A New Plymouth initiative to allow aged and disabled people to enjoy the annual TSB Festival of lights in Pukekura Park has won a national award.

The scheme, jointly developed by the Taranaki Disability Information Centre and New Plymouth District Council, allows people with mobility issues to use a free mobility scooter to travel around the park during the event.

At the recent Federation of Disability Information Centres’ conference in Queenstown, the scheme received the Diane Rangi Innovation Award, which is named after a long-serving information consultant at disability services provider Enable NZ.

Taranaki Disability Information Centre centre general manager Brian Eriksen came up with the scheme, which sees up to seven mobility scooters made available during the festival, as well as in the park during the day and on the Coastal Walkway on request.

Eriksen said the council had offered scooters in the past but, because of problems with vandalism and misuse, this was abandoned a few years ago.

Following interest from disappointed members of the disability community he came up with a proposal for his centre to manage the use of and maintenance of the scooters, which NPDC accepted.

At the last festival there were more than 300 users, while the team also ran an electric shuttle bus from parking at the racecourse down to near the kiosk, where the scooters were held in readiness.

‘‘Pukekura Park and the Festival of Lights are where generations of families can enjoy spending time together and Brian’s efforts have helped make sure that those with mobility issues don’t miss out,’’ said parks manager Stuart Robertson.

The award came in the face of keen competition with other schemes around the country.

The mobility scooters are managed by Eriksen, his staff and a group of volunteers.

While it was extra work, Eriksen said the response from the public made it well worthwhile. There have been no safety issues with scooters mixing with walkers even on the busiest nights in the park.

Many of the users have said they would not have been able to visit the park without the scooters and they had enjoyed being able to keep up with family members and talk as they moved around.

Eriksen was working at including a two-seater scooter in the fleet, which would enable people to sit side-by-side as they moved along.

He said the initial response has been that couples really enjoy this vehicle. It is not much wider than a scooter for a single person and enables users to talk freely while they travel.

Thanks to Lance Girling-Butcher who wrote this article. Lance is a former editor of the Taranaki Daily News and former chairman of the Positive Aging Trust.