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Blind People – Our Voice, Our Future: Speech

Hon Tariana Turia
Minister for Disability Issues

Saturday 6 October 2012; 2.25pm SPEECH

Speech to the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand (ABCNZ)
Annual Conference: Blind People – Our Voice, Our Future
Victoria Hotel; Dunedin.

[Delivered by Rose Wilkinson, Executive Officer of ABCNZ, on behalf of the Minister]

A month or so ago, one of the daily newspapers ran a feature on one of our remarkable Paralympian champions who had just been treated to a triumphant welcome home parade celebrating her heroic efforts in London.

This young sporting hero had returned from the Paralympics with a bronze, two silvers and on the final day winning gold with a time that broke the world record by three seconds.

One might think that such incredible success could be somewhat overwhelming but not for this young legend. She told the adoring press,
"I'm just Mary, Hutt Valley girl, who really loves swimming and just happens to be blind. Being blind doesn't define me as a person. Sure, it takes me a bit longer to do some things, but not a whole lot longer to swim a race."
Your conference today is driven by the theme, Blind People: Our voice; our future.
And so it seems appropriate to lead off my kōrero with you today, thinking about the voice of today – Mary Fisher - and her peers – the generation that will help to shape our future.
Despite her extraordinary achievements, Mary describes herself as just an ordinary girl with ordinary fears.
She loves the colour purple; she likes to do the quizzes at the pub on a Tuesday night; she was pretty nervous about leaving home but now she’s having great fun – much the same as any other 19 year old.
Indeed she could be a perfect poster girl for the disability catch-cry – to seek an ordinary life.

Today we can celebrate that the world in which we live has seen a significant revolution in attitude from the grim age of the twentieth century.
Many in this room may recall a time in which disability was regarded under the framing of a medical model – a problem which indicated there was something ‘wrong’ with a person and society needed to help to ‘fix’ the problem. Some of these magic solutions were in fact more disabling and discriminatory than today’s generation could ever comprehend including segregation from society; institutionalisation; and attitudes that could cause enduring harm.
But through these dark times, people with disabilities forged the way ahead through enabling their voices to be heard.
Their expectations were aired - both of what they expect of society, and more importantly, what they expect of themselves and their representative organisations. Together, organisations like ABC, walk alongside of people with blindness and visual impairment, and have achieved great gains in promoting independence and participation.

And so we come to this conference today, thinking about the ways in which we can build on the momentum created by the voice of disabled persons, in organisations which have been established for support and advocacy.
As you will be aware, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the vital role of disabled people’s organisations, in connecting government agencies with the reality of the lives of disabled persons.
Two particular priorities are the implementation of the convention (article four) and monitoring (article 33).
One of the ideas I’d like to encourage your hui to talk about is the potential of coalition organisations to come together to present a united view on priorities. I believe that your message to Government can be stronger when it is in conjunction with other organisations, than separately working on your own.
This worked successfully during the United Nations negotiations where agreement was reached on issues by disabled persons’ organisations working together before talking with governments.
I see there being every opportunity in the current environment to develop stronger collaborative approaches – I have already seen such collaboration coming through in the monitoring work. I know that Blind Citizens New Zealand is a key member of the Convention Coalition which has been working together to monitor the rights of disabled people.
The Government has formally recognised the Convention Coalition, the Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Ombudsmen as equal participants in the independent monitoring mechanism for New Zealand’s implementation of the United Nations Convention.
I understand that the independent monitoring mechanism has been working well, with all three parties learning from and better understanding each other. It is a great formula for the type of shared talking that we need to see in all quarters – and may well be a model for other sectors to emulate. When it comes to the crunch social change comes down to the quality of our relationships – how well we can build community; how committed we are to each other.
I expect that you will continue to sustain and strengthen your voice, while at the same time looking at the range of collaborative initiatives that might occur both within the disability sector, and outside such as with employers or fund-raising agencies.
I am aware, of course, that fund-raising is difficult across the NGO sector. I have asked the Office for Disability Issues to examine how the voice of disabled persons can best be supported in today’s climate, including whether the funding currently provided by government agencies can be more effectively used.
In this process I am keen to ensure we listen to disabled people and consider their future needs. I want to be quite clear that my priority is in making sure that public funding results in actual improvements to disabled people’s lives and is not eaten up in administrative overheads, or unnecessarily duplication of competing agencies.
The key in making a difference is the focus on accessibility.

The Government has provided funding to Be. Accessible to work with businesses about the value of being accessible, and also to Lifetime Design to promote the value of accessible housing to the building industry.

These are really critical developments, which will also be strengthened by some of the work we are doing in the Christchurch Rebuild.
Under building regulations new or altered buildings will have greater accessibility. Two particular highlights are:
• An advisory service for older people on how to make homes more accessible by taking into account the lifetime design standards;
• And an online repository for information about accessible buildings, aimed at designers, architects and builders.

But of course the issue of accessibility is not just logistical – about ramps and elevators. It is also about something felt; it is about combatting isolation or fear; confronting prejudice; modelling acceptance.

And that’s why I am so proud of the Think Differently campaign which is doing some great work in promoting positive attitudes towards disabled people.

It might be about access to information – how can we ensure that the directions on prescriptions are able to be followed by blind people? Are there alternative formats including Easy Read? Is there adequate computer technology for enable access for blind and low vision people to Government websites?

I understand that the Electoral Commission will be talking with you about your information in planning about how to make voting more accessible, as well as preparations for the next general election – and I would hope also that there is preparation for the Māori Electoral Option which kicks off next March.

You will all be aware that the Māori population is disproportionately affected by impairment (the overall prevalence of vision impairment and blindness in Māori aged 45 to 74 years is twice that of non-Māori) so accessibility must also include focus on inclusion and I would hope that your relationships with Ngā Kapo o Aotearoa will reflect that as well.

I want to briefly talk about a concept which is the heart of the Disability Action Plan for 2012-2014; and that is Enabling Good Lives.

The Enabling Good Lives approach was developed by the disability sector in partnership with government agencies. It is about building up the capability of disabled people, their families and communities – instead of just relying on specialist disability services.
It is also about dismantling the funding silos and simplifying the system so that disabled peoples can plan accordingly.

There has been some Enabling Good Lives work in Christchurch, Wellington and the Waikato. It might be a focus say on an inclusive education system building on the vision of the Ministry of Education’s Success for All – Every School, Every Child. That plan has targets in place to ensure schools include and support disabled students – and we hope that the Ministries of Health and ACC will come along with this plan and share strategies to better integrate support for families.

Basically Enabling Good Lives is about making support more flexible – learning from disabled peoples themselves. As another example, post-earthquake in Christchurch, there has been the idea of creating tags for Disability Assist Dogs, including guide dogs. These tags will clearly identify dogs as Disability Assist Dogs and not pets – and will hopefully mean it will be easier for their owners to be reunited with their dogs in the case of an evacuation or disaster situation.
Another example where we are learning directly from the advocacy and advice of disabled persons is the talking ATMs, and audio-description on TV.
Finally, I want to commend the contribution you have made to the Disability Employment Forum.
I see this Forum as a really important means of getting more disabled people into paid work. It is particularly great to see the focus on providing opportunities for work experience and internships to connect disabled youth with the labour market. I welcome the emphasis on encouraging government agencies to become exemplar employers; and the engagement with employers to build inclusive employment practices.

I am reminded of an answer that responded to the frequently asked question – can there be anything worse than losing one’s sight? The reply was – yes; losing your vision.
As an organisation you have become advocates of disability justice – to embrace difference; and to promote accessibility. You have a vital road ahead, in helping to prepare the way for a world of access and inclusion; to enable your vision to be seen by all that follow.

I return again to the inspiration of Mary Fisher. When she described what it was like to swim for gold, she replied, “When I swim I just have the feel of the water. It feels like freedom”.
In doing so, she changed perceptions just like that – from a focus on disability; to instead be impressed by the very obvious ability that enabled her to experience the glory of an international champion. It is a vision that all of us can emulate.

Tēnā tātou katoa.


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