I recently visited Government House in Wellington on one of the free tours they regularly offer to the public. I had added to my application that I am vision impaired and use a guide dog.
I received a very prompt email in return enquiring if there was anything they could put in place to make my visit easier and more enjoyable. When I explained that my dog has a long waggy tail and I was concerned that he might knock something of extreme value and irreplaceable off a low table I was assigned a special person to be Jay’s ‘tail guide’. Fortunately the majority of the tables were hip height and beautiful pottery and other treasures were out of his reach.
I experienced care, support and guidance to a level I have never received anywhere else I have visited in New Zealand or overseas. It was very special to know that the staff at Government House are so proactive in ensuring that visits by people with disabilities are welcome. If available a sign language interpreter will be provided on request. Signed tours are publicised with Deaf Aotearoa. There were several children on my tour and I was given the opportunity to explain that Jay would not work properly if they walked on my left and they were not to pat, distract or tease him during the tour as he had a job to do.
The areas we visited were all on ground level and are completely accessible. The corridors are wide so wheelchairs can manoeuvre without difficulty. There was little concern shown when my dog lay on the beautiful specially woven carpets, especially the one which can be shaved. It is a privilege to visit this home and view the wonderful art, furniture and gifts presented to New Zealand by visiting heads of state and royalty.
At the conclusion of the tour we visited the remnants of the asylum which originally inhabited these beautiful grounds. The ascent involves steps and the descent a very steep footpath back to the Visitors Centre which would prove difficult for wheelchairs users.
I was given the opportunity to offer suggestions about making the tours more accessible before I left. This was also a first for me. I would highly recommend registering for one of these tours if you are in Wellington, but please inform the staff of your needs before arriving so they can prepare and ensure your experience is amazing.
My only disappointment was that Dame Patsy Reddy was not in residence, Jay had definitely hoped he could meet her and her dog.
This is my access story, it is one of many. I'm sharing it because I want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.