By DAVID HILL
A serious accident has not stopped a North Canterbury man from living a life of adventure.
After 20 years travelling the world as a river guide, patrolling snow-covered mountains and exploring lost jungles, Jezza Williams was left a tetraplegic after a river canyoning accident in Switzerland in 2010.
After returning to New Zealand and settling in Waipara, Jezza established Makingtrax, a business dedicated to making it possible for others, like him, to enjoy the great outdoors.
“I was blown away by the lack of infrastructure in the tourism sector to support people with disabilities, so it’s about opening the companies up to the possibilities and educating them.
“The way I look at it, yes, I have a lot of disabilities, but I’m not disabled. Every ability or disability is different and people don’t really know what they are capable of.”
Jezza is New Zealand’s first tetraplegic solo paragliding pilot.
“To make it happen I have a buggy, so there’s always ways of doing it. It’s about being a New Zealander and looking outside the square box.”
After establishing Makingtrax as a business, Covid-19 uncertainty led Jezza to turn it into a charitable trust earlier this year.
Makingtrax focuses on inclusive tourism and Jezza works with Destination Kaikoura, Destination Queenstown, local councils and tourism operators around New Zealand.
Being inclusive is not simply about putting in a ramp or a disabled toilet, but about mindset, Jezza says.
“Accessibility is about infrastructure, whereas inclusive is about experience. Being inclusive is about integrating people and it’s about allowing people to get out and enjoy themselves.
“You don’t know what my disability or ability is, but I do and I can adapt.”
It could be as simple as making a track 2cm wider, installing a small ramp on bridge or providing safety harnesses, which Makingtrax can supply, Jezza says.
There are believed to be more than 680,000 New Zealanders living with a physical disability, while one in four people are thought to have some form of disability and with the ageing population this is likely to grow.
The majority of people with physical disabilities are unemployed or are likely to have much lower incomes than able-bodied people.
“The problem begins in our education system, where children are told they can’t do things because of their disability,” Jezza says.
“At the end of the day, everybody has something holding them back.”
Around 15 percent of the world’s population, or around 1.2 billion people, live with a disability.
“When the bubble opens up with Australia, there’s 4.4 million people with disabilities and that’s nearly the population of New Zealand, and they have better funding,” Jezza says.
Companies that work with Makingtrax get a “Trax Seal” of approval and are included in the “Inclusive Directory” and on the website makingtrax.co.nz.
“All of their information goes on to the website, so anyone can look into the activity and make up their own mind whether the activity is suitable for them.”