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Wake-up Call for New Zealanders

Outgoing Disability Commissioner’s Message in Oz a Wake-up Call for New Zealanders

Comments made by the outgoing Australian Disability Commissioner, Graeme Innes, should be a wake-up call for New Zealanders that there are still serious barriers faced by disabled job seekers both here and overseas.

Graeme Innes, who is blind, caused a storm this week as he highlighted the ongoing discrimination against disabled people – especially job seekers - in Australia.

Mr Innes is leaving his role as the Commissioner in Australia today after it was cut from the Australian Human Rights Commission, in part, to make way for a new Freedom Commissioner.

In his last speech to the National Press Club, the veteran disability and human rights activist talked about his own experiences facing discrimination. He went through thirty failed job interviews over twelve months because employers did not think a blind person could work as a lawyer.

CCS Disability Action Chief Executive, David Matthews, said the situation was no different in New Zealand and the community often did not recognise the skills and ability of disabled people.

In New Zealand, disabled people have an unemployment rate twice that of non-disabled people.

In a 2012 research report, 78 per cent of employers said that disabled New Zealanders are discriminated against. The most common employment complaint to the New Zealand Human Rights Commission is about disability discrimination. Disabled people have repeatedly reported not getting interviews because they acknowledged their disability.

David Matthews, CCS Disability Action Chief Executive, said:

“In our branches across the country, we are seeing disabled people struggle to get a fair go when applying for jobs. Disabled people hunting for jobs are having the door slammed in their face, far more than non-disabled people.”

Mr Matthews was clear that the main issue was the attitude of society and employers.

“Disabled people say they want to work and research has consistently shown that they want to work. The main barrier is society and employers not giving them a fair go.”

Government and non-government organisations have responded with a host of measures. Mr Matthews said that while these measures are part of the solution, the wider issue of attitudes was sometimes downplayed.

“Unless we change our attitudes towards disability, it will not be enough. This is not just about the people at the top. In most large organisations, hiring decisions are made by multiple people.”

Mr Matthews was unapologetic about the need for more people to speak out about discrimination.

“Why are people tolerating discrimination against disabled job seekers? Are people questioning why qualified candidates are being put on the reject pile, just because they acknowledge their disability? This is about standing up for what is right.”

Mr Matthews emphasised that with an estimated one million people identified as having a disability in New Zealand, the economic impact was huge.

“We are turning our back on a huge number of potential workers. This is not fair and it is not good for the country’s economy or the future.”

Mr Matthews said he would leave the last word to Graeme Innes who said in his speech:

“Disability is a normal part of the diversity of the human experience, and the life of our community.”


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