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Building Act Exemption Unfair And Wrong

Building Act Exemption Unfair And Wrong

The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) this morning told the Local Government and Environment Select Committee that a proposed amendment to the Building Act, exempting owners from having to make their public buildings accessible, is unfair and wrong.

MDA Chief Executive Chris Higgins told the Committee that the exemption would discriminate against people with disabilities by denying them access to public buildings, and would risk further marginalising them from their communities and society.

Mr Higgins said that the exemption would be contrary to current legal requirements including the Building Act itself (which makes it mandatory for public buildings to be accessible to people with disabilities), the Human Rights Act (which makes it unlawful to deny a person access to a place because the person has a disability), and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (which states that the government must take measures to ensure people with disabilities have the right to access the physical environment on an equal basis with others).

“The proposed exemption will be unworkable” Mr Higgins said. “How will territorial local authorities possibly be able to decide whether being no longer earthquake-prone outweighs any detriment that is likely to arise as a result of the building not being accessible? And if they do make such decisions who will ensure that they’re being made consistently across the country so that accessibility does not become a postcode lottery?” he asked.

MDA National Council Chairperson Lindsay McGregor told the Committee that the proposed exemption is unnecessary.

“We understand that it was introduced in response to an assumption that adhering to the accessibility requirements of the Building Act may make earthquake strengthening prohibitively expensive. We do not accept that this will be the case.” Mr McGregor said. “Accessibility can usually be provided for relatively inexpensively and in rare cases where this is not the case there will be financing options that can be negotiated or arranged to enable the costs to be met. This bit of extra effort that may be required by a building owner should not be a reason to be exempted from the Act.”

Mr McGregor informed the Committee that the Muscular Dystrophy Association itself had addressed a similar issue about two years ago.

“Our previous National Office premises had significant accessibility issues so we purchased premises elsewhere and upgraded them so that they are now fully accessible. The upgrade required considerable effort, but we found a way through it. Our point is that if a charity with limited funds and insecure revenue streams can make its premises accessible, then anybody should be able to.”

The Muscular Dystrophy Association represents over 1100 members with muscular dystrophy and a range of other neuromuscular conditions. All of the conditions are associated with progressive muscle weakness and/or loss of muscle function associated with progress and varying degrees of physical disability, often requiring permanent use of a wheelchair or power wheelchair for mobility. All conditions covered by the MDA are genetic, they are often unpredictable and may affect anybody at any age, they are sometimes hereditary, there are no cures, effective treatment options are very limited and where they do exist they are not available through the New Zealand public health system.

It is conservatively estimated that in New Zealand there are 4400 people with one of the 40+ conditions covered by the MDA.
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