Beach access for all
DOUBLE amputee Nadya Vessey feels free when she’s swimming in the sea.
But few Auckland beaches are equipped with the handrails and steps she needs to make getting in and out of the water easier so her options are limited. Vessey wants more beaches across the region made accessible – and she’s using the Onehunga Foreshore Project as a starting point.
The former Mt Roskill resident hit international headlines in 2009 when Weta Workshop crafted her a tail to swim with.
The idea came after a young boy saw her taking off her artificial legs for a swim and asked her why. ‘‘I’m a mermaid,’’ was Vessey’s reply. ‘‘I just love the ocean, for my mental and spiritual health especially. When I jump in the ocean it just equalises everything. Auckland has so much coastline, and New Zealand does too, you look at it and think about ‘how do I get in?’.’’
Vessey was born with a condition that meant her legs did not develop properly. She had her first amputation at 7 and her second at 16.
Swimming was the only school sport she could really get stuck into, she says.
Vessey moved to Northland’s Doubtless Bay in January so she could rent out her Auckland home and be closer to the ocean.
She used to swim at a beach in Herne Bay because it had wide steps which were submerged at high tide so she could sit and take her prosthetics off before getting in. A handrail is also key, she says. ‘‘Everyone in the disability community is calling for it. There’s just such a lack.’’
The Auckland Limb Centre in Mt Eden has made Vessey ‘‘swimming legs’’ so she can get in and out of the water when access is a problem, she says.
‘‘With the new legs I can walk into the water. It’s interesting, just to go out there and touch the bottom. But if I could get in without them, I would. It’s so much more free.’’
The Maungakiekie-Tamaki Local Board is constructing a 6.8-hectare park in Onehunga, opening access to the Manukau Harbour. The $28 million project will include nine stretches of beach with three designated for swimming, a boat ramp, amenities and a bridge connecting the site to Onehunga.
Vessey approached the council in 2013 to see if they would make at least one of the beaches accessible and the local board allocated more than $10,000 towards concept designs on May 20 this year.
Work on the design is under way and Vessey says the council has been great to work with.
She says access is not just an issue for amputees – ‘‘it’s also blind people, deaf people, people in wheelchairs, all sorts’’.
Maungakiekie Tamaki Local Board chairman Simon Randall says provision for other users including boaties and birdwatchers has been included in the plans so it makes sense that accessibility should be on the list too.
‘‘From my perspective we’re building a great asset for the community and, as much as possible, it would be great for it to be an asset for the whole community. The idea is to include as many people as we can in what will be an outstanding feature and facility.’’
The Onehunga Foreshore Project is expected to be ready to open by April or May 2015.
Diving in: Nadya Vessey in a mermaid’s tail, made by Weta Workshop. She has since returned it as the tail no longer fits her.
Thumbs up: Nadya Vessey is ‘‘thrilled’’ the council is looking at making Onehunga’s shoreline accessible for people with disabilities.