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November 10, 2003

Passenger transport firms ignoring needs of deaf - inquest told

From:, New Zealand - Nov 10, 2003

Passenger transport operators are ignoring the needs of deaf and other disabled people in New Zealand, the Hearing Association says.

The criticism comes in the wake of the death of an American tourist, who was killed in a train accident in Kaikoura earlier this year.

William Robert Miller, a 68-year-old retired military serviceman from Mt Gilead, Ohio, was killed after he slipped and fell while trying to board a Tranz Scenic train leaving the Kaikoura railway station on March 28 this year.

Passengers had been told not to get off the train when it pulled into the station because it was only a short stop.

But Mr Miller, who had a hearing impairment, left the train to buy refreshments.

He returned to the platform to find the train pulling away.

He attempted to get aboard but lost his footing and was dragged several metres before falling under the train.

In his submission to Kaikoura coroner David Crerar at the inquest on Friday, Hearing Association national public affairs manager Chris Peters said Tranz Scenic had failed to ensure Mr Miller had been informed not to get off the train at Kaikoura.

The accident reports by Tranz Scenic and the Land Transport Safety Authority suggested the overall reason for the tragedy was that because Mr Miller had a severe hearing loss he did not hear the instructions over the train's public address system, which would have helped him avoid the accident, Mr Peters said.

Tranz Scenic thereby also probably failed its contractual obligations to carry him to his destination safely, he said.


"Tranz Scenic failed and continues to fail in its duty to all disabled passengers, particularly the hearing impaired and deaf, by not identifying them, ascertaining what their disability is and taking steps to accommodate issues relating to that disability," Mr Peters said.

"... in this failing, Tranz Scenic is joined by other passenger transport providers who fail to take similar action and that the issue of disabilities and transport is currently under investigation by the Human Rights Commission."

The last census showed 223,500 New Zealanders had a hearing loss or were deaf, and Tranz Scenic had no excuse for not knowing that potentially one-fifth of its passengers have a disability, Mr Peters said.

The Hearing Association recommended that:

* All passenger transport companies, particularly those offering long-distance travel, be required to have a section on their booking forms asking prospective passengers to identify any disability; and

* All public transport vehicles as well as stations and terminals be required to have updateable visual displays of important information as well as verbal announcements.

Mr Crerar reserved his full finding, and said that while Tranz Scenic was not to blame for the death, he would be making suggestions for improvements in his final report.

© Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2003.