Disabilities ‘an afterthought’ after wheelchair user’s death

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said “disabled people are an afterthought” in New Zealand following the “preventable” death of William Wiki Teoi in 2018.

Wiki Teoi died after being hit by a car crossing a busy Auckland road, but four years later no improvements have yet been made to the road where the 84-year-old wheelchair user was killed .

This is despite the coroner finding that the road was the main contributing factor to his death.

Coroner Alexander Ho, who is supported by Tesoriero, continues to press for changes to be made to prevent further deaths or injuries.

On March 12, 2018, Wiki Teoi died at Middlemore Hospital.

The day before, he wanted to cross East Tamaki Road, a multi-lane road in Auckland’s Ōtara, from south to north.

But the reported crosswalk was not accessible for him in his wheelchair, Wiki Teoi drove a short distance down East Tamaki Road where there was a driveway providing access to the road.

In his findings, the coroner believes Wiki Teoi’s intentions were to cross the two lanes on the south side of the road, cross a turning bay and then cross the three lanes on the north side of East Tamaki Road where he could climb back up. the trail using the parking lot entrance access.

However, when Wiki Teoi reached the turn bay, both lanes on the north side had stationary cars. He started moving through stationary traffic into the first lane that was clear at the time.

As he exited the second lane, he came into the path of an oncoming vehicle which collided with the front of his wheelchair.

The force of the impact knocked him to the ground and he sustained multiple rib fractures.

At Middlemore Hospital, Wiki Teoi suffered from heart failure and died.

Dr. Peng of Manukau Counties DHB noted in a report to the coroner that it was possible his rib fractures had caused enough pain, triggering a rapid heart rate that may have initially contributed to heart failure.

He was an elderly man with serious underlying health issues.

Coroner Ho said he was satisfied that Wiki Teoi’s death “was of natural cause, although at least partially caused or exacerbated by the collision”.

He added that the death was preventable due to the layout of the road.

However, Auckland Transport (AT) conducted a road death site investigation report after Wiki Teoi’s death, where it stated that “the road was not the main contributing factor to the accident “.

Instead, the agency identified two general road improvement recommendations – to investigate improvements in road user connectivity, observing that there were no stroller crossings or crossing facilities on the slip road, and to renew road markings in the area.

No improvement

Improvements were expected to be completed by January 2019. So far, none have been made.

Coroner says even in AT’s best-case scenario, there will be no safe, signposted and mobility-accessible passage from Preston Road to East Tamaki Road until the end of 2022 at the earliest – more than four years after the death of Wiki Teoi.

“This safety upgrade project is currently in an advanced stage of development and we plan to update the community on the progress made in the coming months,” Auckland Transport spokeswoman Natalie Polley said. at 1News.

“This death was an absolute tragedy and a heartbreaking reminder of the importance of keeping our roads and crossings safe for our communities.

“Safety on Auckland’s road network is our top priority and we take the safety of all road users seriously as part of our Vision Zero Workflow. This is particularly important when it comes to our most vulnerable road users – those outside of vehicles – who are overrepresented in tragedies such as this.”

Polley said AT acknowledged Coroner Ho’s findings, adding “we are committed to implementing the recommended safety improvements.”

However, Coroner Ho dismissed AT’s claims that the road was not the primary factor in his death.

“Mr. Wiki Teoi’s accident was preventable. I do not accept AT’s conclusion that the road was not the primary contributing factor to the accident. It was,” he said. declared.

“The only reason Mr. Wiki Teoi was navigating uncontrolled traffic was that AT was not providing a signaled safe passage for mobility users to cross a busy thoroughfare.

“I recommend that AT undertake the necessary works to ensure that mobility and other car users have access to a safe and accessible level crossing crossing East Tamaki Road in the same way that able-bodied pedestrians currently enjoy. “

He went on to say, “The risk factors that led to Mr. Wiki Teoi’s accident are still present. I can only reiterate, with the greatest possible force, the recommendation I made above. .

“There has already been one unnecessary fatality due to the inability of mobility users to access the reported crossing. It is desirable that this accessibility issue be quickly resolved.”

Coroner Ho also recommended that AT review all flagged crossings on its network to ensure they comply with access requirements for mobility and other pedestrian trolley users, and if they are not non-compliant, that there are safe alternative passages for these users within a reasonable distance.

deeply disturbing

Tesoriero agrees.

“As the coroner said: unfortunately the accident was preventable,” she told 1News.

“It tells me that again disabled people are an afterthought and on a personal level it is a deeply disturbing thought for me as I can only assume it must be for Mr. (Wiki) Teoi.”

She said the design of the road and trail during this incident did not consider the needs of wheelchair and mobility device users.

She was particularly saddened to think of the anguish of the Wiki Teoi family, enduring four years of waiting for safe, signposted and disabled-accessible crossing in the area.

“People in wheelchairs or using mobility devices are not uncommon, and as our population ages we will see more people needing mobility aids to go about their daily lives,” Tesoriero said.

“Councils and agencies dealing with public infrastructure like roads and pathways need to start prioritizing accessibility in the design of public spaces and redevelop those that are not accessible.

“The fact that there is still no safe and signalized crossing is deeply concerning.

“It’s as much a question of fairness as it is a question of safety.”

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