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Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand Inc

Hon Tariana Turia
Minister for Disability Issues

21 July 2014

Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand Inc
Parliament Buildings

Tēnā koutou. Ka mihi au ki te kaupapa o Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. He taonga motuhake tēnei nō tātau, nō te motu. Kia kaha tātau ki te ako i te kupu o te wiki. Kia ora.

My acknowledgments firstly to:
• Alexandre Cote from the International Disability Alliance
• La Halatau (Co-Chair) and Setareki Macanaway (Chief Executive) from the Pacific Disability Forum
• MP Mojo Mathers and my other Parliamentary colleagues.
• Officials from the various agencies

This is a great day to be joining you for this special Blind Citizens New Zealand event.

It is an even more special time in that it dovetails on the opening of Māori Language Week and the theme for Māori Language Week is – Te Kupu o Te Wiki – one new word a week.

I thought I’d start with my word for this week – vision –in te reo, that’s ‘kite’.

The point is that just like our understandings around the issues and priorities for blind and vision-impaired people - when we think about the richness of te reo Maori, we are also likely to come across a rich variety of experiences and meanings.

I came across a quote from Helen Keller which expresses a message for today– life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.

For Blind Citizens New Zealand, the lessons we have learnt from your example is a virtual spectrum of positive attitudes around the rights of blind and vision-impaired people.

The lessons I have learnt in having the privilege of serving you as Minister have been reinforced right across the disability sector. And I am so pleased today to see so many of you in the room.

I want to particularly mention my friends and mentors from the Convention Coalition.
• David Rutherford (Chief Commissioner, Human Rights Commission)
• Beverley Wakem (Chief Ombudsman)
• Mary Schnackenberg (Chair, Convention Coalition)

It is great to welcome Chrissy Cowan and Mere Courtis from Ngati Kapo, representatives from People First, the Blind Foundation, CCS Disability Action and other DPO and of course your President, Clive Lansink, and Executive Officer, Rose Wilkinson. Thank you Clive for your kind words and also the challenges for me in my last nine weeks.

One of the most exciting features of the work I have been involved in with the disability sector is to witness the level of collaboration and collective momentum that has built across your sector.

I remember when I was first made the Minister of Disability Issues on 30 June 2009, my first statement said that a key focus for me would be in ‘addressing the challenge of what we might call a disabling society.’

Your organisation has played an extremely important role in heightening awareness of the needs of blind and vision impaired people to be able to live in a way which orientates all of our thinking to the need for an accessible, equitable and inclusive society. I think that continues to exist and that we still have a society that does not fully understand.

But in order to achieve the progress we need, all of us – Disabled Peoples Organisations, departments, family, friends. We need to work together, to insist on attitudes and behaviours that normalise inclusion as the benchmark of a healthy society.

That is why I am so delighted to see such diverse representation here today from government officials, many of whom have been involved in the DPO-Government work, officials and representatives of DPOs, service provider, allies, stakeholders and family and friends.

I want to just focus on two areas for your discussion today, and that is:
• accessible independent voting and
• accessible public buildings

In 61 days, all of us will have a chance to determine the composition of the next Parliament to take New Zealand forward.

It is of fundamental importance that blind and vision impaired people have just as much right to access electoral information and to independently cast a secret vote as any other citizen.

The Electoral Act 1993 currently provides for voters with disabilities to vote with assistance, if needed.

I am very pleased that the Electoral Amendment Regulations 2014 expand telephone dictation voting to persons who are blind, vision-impaired or have another impairment that prevents them from casting a secret ballot in a parliamentary election. Not ideal but a step forward.

The process is fairly straight forward.
• You can register for dictation prior to voting and you will be asked to select a pin number.
• Once registered with your pin number, you receive a registration number.
• To vote, you provide your registration and pin numbers, but not your name, to the official who will record your vote.

It sounds easy enough – so let’s hope all the glitches come up in the trial and by the time we get to September 20, the system will be ready to roll.

Another initiative worth remembering is the Electoral Commission’s Access 2020 Disability Strategy.

The Commission’s goal is that by 2020, all eligible New Zealanders, regardless of disability, can fully participate in parliamentary elections.

What I like about that is in effect that’s a five year goal to full inclusion – and I’m happy that such a timeframe will be by necessity, place urgency on the issues about accessible independent voting.

I am delighted to launch this new publication on accessible independent voting for blind and vision impaired voters which more than anything else is going to help make that 2020 goal happen.

I am also pleased that the Office for Disability Issues will be involved in the development and testing of a trial of online voting in local elections in 2016 in selected sites. I know they will be looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this trial. There’s too much at stake not to be watching every step of this trial to make sure that it really will assist in opening up the voting process for the blind and visually impaired.

The second thing I want today is to respond to some of your concerns about access to public buildings.

It is absolutely vital that we make immediate progress in enabling blind and vision-impaired New Zealanders to enter, navigate and carry out everyday activities in public buildings and facilities.

Such access is crucial for their full and equal participation in society.

I believe that the time has come for all of us to commit to the concept of a truly accessible environment for everyone.

It was for that reason that I sought a review of Access for Disabled People which is being jointly carried out by the Office for Disability Issues and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

I am glad that Blind Citizens NZ took up the challenge to be involved in this work and I want to thank you all for your commitment.

Some of the areas for improvement the review found were increasing understanding about the benefits of accessibility and the intent of building regulations.

In addition, this review of access into buildings for disabled people was supported by a multi-stakeholder Access Reference Group and of course Clive has raised the issue of internet access equally.

The Access Reference Group included representatives from Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs), local government, architects and other organisations with expertise in disability and accessibility. I am pleased that Blind Citizens New Zealand are also part of this group.

From what I understand of current progress, the idea is to create a long term plan to ensure the accessibility of buildings for disabled people will be developed.

I want to come back to Helen Keller’s quote that life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.

Whether it be in fully enjoying the democratic right to vote, or gaining access to the supermarket, the movie theatre or your workplace, I really hope that what remains uppermost in all of our minds, is the vision – in the sense of the word, tūtoro – working towards a better world.

A better world would be one where everyone is enabled to live the life they want to live, getting freely to places and spaces.

A better world is one where the limitations of a disabling society are extinguished, one by one.

A better world is the one that we all create for ourselves.

I congratulate Blind Citizens New Zealand for your courage, your commitment and your determination to do all that you can to enable blind and visually impaired people every opportunity to thrive.

Tēnā tatou katoa.

ENDS

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