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Making a post-Covid accessible world for all

During the global pandemic, the world became more accessible, as businesses and organisations moved online.

For Christchurch couple, Ruth Jones and Gary Williams it meant they could finally order food from their local takeaway joint and ‘attend’ the ballet.

“Let that same innovation continue,” says Ruth.

Gary and Ruth, who both have mobility impairments, are used to problem solving in a world that is mostly designed for able-bodied people. Jones has used a scooter since the age of 17.

Now that noho rāhui / lockdown has opened up a world of possibilities, they hope New Zealand builds on this and other connected issues.

“I would like to see a discussion about social isolation of the elderly,” says Gary.

“Now that the country knows what isolation really is, perhaps we can do something about that and loneliness,” says Gary.

Ruth agrees and says the same discussion needs to be had around accessibility.

“There are lots of different and exciting ways to do stuff,” says Ruth.

While lockdown forced employers to allow staff to work from home and increase accessibility to places, Covid-19 also highlighted the “real gap’ between those in the community who have privilege and those who have none, says Ruth.

“Disabled people who are resourced, fare really well,” says Ruth.

“Disabled people who aren’t resourced, and who face systemic disadvantage, the things they found hard before lockdown are exacerbated and got much harder.”

During lockdown, Ruth and Gary worked tirelessly to support whānau in need, through their whānau ora entity, Hei Whakapiki Mauri.

As part of Manaaki20 (an initiative aimed at supporting whānau to connect and stay well at home during Covid-19) Gary and Ruth responded to people with really high health needs or disabilities and complex situations. They made sure they had the necessary medical care, were getting food and while in lockdown, were not completely isolated.

“It’s amazing what you can do by not leaving your home. We did do some deliveries but we found lots of different ways to do things,” says Ruth.

As time went on and the levels dropped, their Hei Whakapiki Mauri navigators were able to deliver kai to whānau and through Manaaki20, power was paid for whānau and grocery vouchers provided to them.

With their existing Hei Whakapiki Mauri whānau, Ruth and Gary connected on Zoom, doing online challenges, hui, waiata, and educational sessions.

Manaaki20 referrals had come in every day, to the point where the couple didn’t have weekends or public holidays but they did take some time out to bake, exercise on Zoom and listen to good podcasts.

Maintaining a routine during lockdown was crucial for the pair and their wellbeing.

The couple’s position was unique in that they had 18 people in their bubble, which included their five support staff – and all of their families.

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