Why you shouldn’t make Assumptions. Ever


In light of this gloomy winter weather I’m feeling a little bit nostalgic. So I’m going to talk about an interesting experience I had last summer in regard to wheelchair-accessible accommodation when I was holidaying in Paihia with my family.

This trip was amazing. Paihia has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, reminding me of how I love this country of ours. Wheelchair accessibility in Paihia is flawless, which I was impressed with considering it is a historic town, and the people are super friendly. From a wheelchair-using point of view, I only have one complaint and even though this complaint was a pretty major one, I can usually write a list of things that are not up to scratch from a wheelchair’s perspective when I go on holiday. And considering this town is a tourist town I would expect it to be perfect.

This quite-major mishap was the accommodation situation. A couple of weeks before leaving my mum did her appropriate research and booked a room that was wheelchair friendly, reasonably priced and in a central location. So, confident that we had a place to rest as soon as we arrived after a 4-5 hour drive we hopped in the car and got on the road.

Once we finally got there, we went straight to the hotel. We got given the key to our room and when we got there, there was a step to get into the bathroom of the “wheelchair accessible room”. After speaking with the manager on duty at the time, who was incredibly rude and didn’t even understand what the big problem was, we cancelled our booking and started looking for another hotel. The manager of the second hotel also said they had an accessible room and when we had a look at it, it was the same situation – a big step to get into the bathroom. Third time lucky, however. That one was perfect.

I can easily say that this could be purely due to ignorance and people assuming that you can just lift the wheelchair over the step. On a side note, this would be possible if I had a manual wheelchair, but I don’t, and electric chairs are impossible to lift. But this is more than just an ignorant assumption. The council approves this and that is why they can have these ridiculous rooms deemed ‘legally wheelchair accessible’. I can’t even begin to describe how shocked I was at this. How can the room be wheelchair friendly, if I can’t even get into the bathroom? I don’t understand. And this issue isn’t exclusive to Northland; the same thing happened to me in Taupo last year.

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This proves my theory that in order for something to be ‘wheelchair friendly’, it needs to be approved by someone who is in a wheelchair. There is no way a person who is actually in a wheelchair, or has been in the past and knows exactly what provisions need to be in place, approved that stupidity. Any able-bodied person can say that its ok but at the end of the day, that’s a mere assumption and assumptions are never a guaranteed truth. It’s also incredibly patronising. Can I not speak for myself on the matter? And if it’s not up to standard, do you expect me to just deal with it at the expense of my safety just so you can earn a buck? But all that aside, shouldn’t it be obvious? Able-bodied or not, if the first thing that comes to your mind when thinking about wheelchair-accessibility is “a big step”, you really need to check yourself.


  1. We’ve had a similar experience. One supposedly wheel-chair “friendly” room had a bathroom mirror that was high up on the wall; the door to the toilet couldn’t be closed when someone in a wheelchair was using it; and the shower cubicle was designed for an able-bodied human – not one in a chair. (This was in Picton – a tourist town!)

    Another motel’s wheelchair friendly room was acceptable – but the decor was straight out of the 1950s. I kid you not. It was like slipping through a time warp and waking up in 1953… The best I could say was, “it was quaint”…

    It reconfirmed to me that when designing and building a wheelchair friendly facility, the best consultant is the person who’ll end up using it.

    On a side note, the BEST wheelchair friendly tourist facility is a paddle-steamer boat in Blenheim. A person in a wheelchair has no difficulty boarding and navigating throughout.

  2. Can only lift a very small person in a manual chair up one step, and it is not safe (and also requires another person or two, so no good for an independent traveller). Have found a budget/backpackers in Paihia which was accessible, but required the entrance to the accessible lift to be clear (which it often wasn’t) Travelling around NZ with a person who uses a manual chair we have found that motels in the Bella Vista chain always have two very accessible units and owners usually understand accessibility needs.

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