Ite Lemalu, Access Alliance Campaign Volunteer and Blind Low Vision NZ client, gives his perspective of the People Choice awards.

The Access Alliance People’s Choice Awards was held on Friday, 21st of February at the Sudima Auckland Airport. The event recognised businesses and organisations who were going above and beyond in accommodating the access needs of their customers.

I had the privilege of presenting the first award of the evening. I was just as honoured to be sharing this responsibility with other presenters with access needs, namely Chris Orr, Rhonda Comins, Lisa Reid, Juliana Carvalho and Vivian Naylor. The Master of Ceremony was Amy Hogan, who commanded the room with her charming wit and timely jokes.

The event was attended by Hon Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Disability Issues, Hon Jenny Sales, Minister of Health, and Hon Alfred Ngaro, the National Party’s Spokesperson for Disability Issues and the Co-Chair of the Parliamentary of Champions for Accessible Legislation (PCAL).

Minister Sepuloni spoke about the importance of why accessibility matters to New Zealand; noting that it allows all Kiwis the opportunity to engage in all parts of life with confidence and dignity to reach their potential and aspirations. In addition, the Minister emphasised that access to the physical environments would mean access to education, employment, public transport, entertainment, information and communication.

Seven businesses were presented with awards. Christchurch based Sign Equity Ltd, a provider in teaching New Zealand Sign Language, won Best Social Inclusion as well as the Supreme award for being nominated multiple times across several categories: “We feel communication in general is a human right, and a lot of places are overlooking it,” said Brendan Fraser, Sign Equity’s Business Development Manager. “We are here to support all the other businesses around us and correct that.”

I was most encouraged by Brendan’s comments. He spoke passionately about Sign Equity’s commitment to making accessibility a key component in New Zealand businesses.

The awards provide recognition to businesses who are succeeding and promoting accessibility to the community. It also provides lessons as to what needs to be improved in other areas and how to further develop facilities that can further improve accessibility requirements. The awards can inspire ideas and input from people with lived experience and businesses like Sign Equity are clearly leading the way. The success of the awards ensures that everyone wins.

Incidentally, Amy was also a winner on the night. As emcee, Amy commanded the room with her infectious humour and smile. Everyone in the room was shocked and entertained when Amy told her story about the time she had to be carried down to the podium in a lecture theatre to give a lecture on access and disability rights. This is just one way that Amy related to everyone in the room in showing that we all at some point in our lives will need accessibility. Amy’s delivery of her story as well as her overall performance helped people to better understand that these topics are not easy to discuss. I feel that this has opened the way to creating an increased want for participation in future awards.

Access Alliance People’s Choice award winners:

Best Accessibility Website – It’s Accessible
Best Accessibility Education Provider – Auckland University of Technology
Best Accessibility Transport Provider – Driving Miss Daisy Mangere Bridge
Best Accessibility Retailer – The Warehouse Group
Best Accessibility Employer – Thumbs Up Charitable Trust
Best Accessibility Service Provider – NextStep NZ
Best Social Inclusion – Sign Equity Ltd
Supreme accessibility winner – Sign Equity Ltd