125th anniversary of Suffrage in New Zealand

Alexia Pickering inducted into the Attitude Awards Hall of Fame

3 December 2013

Alexia Pickering (centre) with Tanya Black and Ross Pickett (David Olsen Photography)

Alexia Pickering’s induction into the Attitude Awards Hall of Fame recognised her lifelong dedication to championing accessibility for all New Zealanders.

Alexia Pilcher was born in Petone on 20 May 1930 with spina bifida, a complex neural tube defect that occurs during a foetus’s early development. The vertebrae (spine) does not completely close around the spinal cord, and the result is varying degrees of permanent damage and paralysis. At 10 months old Alexia was operated on by the orthopaedic surgeon Alexander Gillies, who went on to co-found the Crippled Children Society (now CCS Disability Action). Growing up, she used to tell curious people she was in a wheelchair because she had polio, or had fallen off a roof, because few knew what spina bifida was.

Alexia excelled at primary and high school despite spending the first seven years of her life in and out of hospital. She had a talent for music and sang on National Radio during her early twenties, around the time she met her future husband, Neville Pickering. Following their marriage it took the couple four years to convince the authorities to allow them to adopt a child. They went on to adopt three children and Pickering later gave birth to a fourth. Pickering became vocal about disability access issues while her husband was a Member of Parliament (from 1957 to 1960) and then Mayor of Christchurch (from 1971 to 1974). She used her personal experience of barriers to independence – such as the lack of wheelchair access to many public buildings –  to lobby, promote and petition on behalf of people with disabilities.

She became director of the Disability Resource Centre in 1988, was a founding member of the Disabled Persons Assembly, and served on many government inquiries and commissions. While visiting London she came across a guide for people with limited mobility and decided to create her own for New Zealand. After two years of research throughout the country she published an accommodation guide, Accessible New Zealand.

Pickering was appointed a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order in the 1996 New Year’s Honours and a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005. Right up until her death in 2017 she continued to work as an expert in the field of disability access and was highly regarded for her energy, leadership and commitment. 

 

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