Shower stoush leaves disabled woman unable to use Northland gym

December 4, 2022

A disability support group is calling for a more inclusive society for disabled people following a stoush in the small Northland town of Mangōnui over use of a gym’s shower.

August Harris, who is blind and developmentally impaired, and her father have been stopped from going to the local gym after she showered in the male changing rooms.

The 23-year-old had been going to the Mangōnui gym for around a year with the help of a female carer.

However recently her father Mitch Harris had to take over, and he started showering August in the men’s changing facilities.

“I thought that was the most appropriate thing to do,” he said.

“There was no one in the bathrooms … There's hardly anyone there in the afternoons, that's why we go there.”

But the gym owner took exception, banning Mitch from the premises, which means August also can't go.

“There are male members within the gym that need to use those showers as well and the toilets and urinal, and I do not have disabled shower facilities,” said owner Lance Morey.

Morey says he told Mitch to "piss off" when he approached him at the gym, and even told him he would break his jaw. His reason: "Because I don't like him."

NorthAble disability advocate Adam Dade says many rural areas don’t have adequate facilities for the disabled.

“We see it quite often, clients are either unable to attend or participate in activities or if they do, they have to compromise what they do or the way that they do it,” he said.

Dade said facilities like accessible bathrooms should also be available in private places like gyms.

“I think the biggest thing for us to be able to do is [look at] how we can change planning legislation to make sure all buildings are built in an inclusive way," he said.

August’s disability makes exercise difficult, and Mitch said the gym has been fantastic for her as she was able to use the treadmill.

“It means that she can go for a long walk in safety and she really likes it and she can do 45 minutes on the treadmill,” Mitch said.

“It's been really good for her health, weight and fitness.”

Mitch has now bought a treadmill for August to use at home, but said it's unfortunate because the gym had her out and about in the community.