Beach ac­cess for all

Central Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By LAUREN PRI­EST­LEY

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.

Photo: STEVE UN­WIN

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.

Photo: LAUREN PRI­EST­LEY

Thumbs up: Nadya Vessey is ‘‘thrilled’’ the coun­cil is look­ing at mak­ing One­hunga’s shore­line ac­ces­si­ble for people with dis­abil­i­ties.

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