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Turia: Report on the Human Rights of Disabled

Tariana Turia

8 December, 2010

'Report on the Human Rights of Disabled Persons in NZ'

I want to firstly acknowledge the significance of this moment; and to recognise a number of individuals and organisations who will be associated with this day.

And so I stand here today, to honour the words, the commitment and the inspiration provided by:

• The members of the Coalition Convention.

• Gary Williams, Project Co-ordinator

• Wendi Wicks from DPA

• Association of Blind Citizens

• People First

• Deaf Aotearoa

• Ngati Käpo o Aotearoa

• Nga Hau E Wha

• and the whanau and families you all bring with you.

This is a significant moment not just for Parliament but for Aotearoa as a whole.

And it is indeed fitting to be here in the Banquet Hall for what we are doing today is celebrating a great event – the first time in which the Disability Rights Promotion International project has been funded by a Government; and the first to be taken almost exclusively by disabled persons.

It probably says something about me, that when I opened this report my eye was drawn to the chapter headed Resistance, Recommendations and Resilience.

In that chapter there was a statement made by one of the participants which made a simple case for raising awareness. The person said, and I quote:

“So what do people with disabilities need? They need friends. They need employment. They need opportunities to experience the same things”.

Such a statement is hardly outrageous or sensational.

And yet consistently throughout the report, we learn about the disabling nature of social attitudes which have prevented disabled persons and their families from achieving their aspirations.

Indeed the report confirms that one of the big challenges is the way people and society disables them.

It may as simple as one participant said, “it’s just understanding that people don’t know how to approach you”.

Or it might go to the other extreme as we read in the case-study provided of a Deaf person who was forced to take a music class - relying on hands and eyes to learn the keyboards – in order to pass the BA qualification. The ultimate insult was when the music lecturer told them “you need to try and be like a hearing person”.

What the report tells us over and over again, is that often it is the simplest of things that disabled people want. It is the opportunity to have friends, a social network, to be able to get out and about, to share a pot of tea or discuss the local news, for people to engage with you in conversation, all those activities which are just as important for a disabled person as they are for a non-disabled person.

But they also want to know that they are respected, that the other person wants to understand a little bit about Deaf culture, to meet you halfway.

Recently I heard Aubrey Quinn, a face of the Like Minds Like Mine campaign speak about how the people who first employed him have remained lifelong friends and how he feels he owes them and his wife a debt of gratitude. They gave him a job, he was honest about his illness and they didn’t judge him for it and quietly supported him so he could get on and do the work he was employed to do.

That is why this report is so important. We learn about the differences in lived experience between disabled and non-disabled persons, and we know that – because it is in your words.

Strategies which have been designed to facilitate participation, and to foster collaboration, have been used to ensure readers become more informed about the worlds in which disabled persons inhabit.

The report builds on this knowledge, and recommends an awareness campaign to change attitudes and behaviours of a disabling society.

It is a very clear direction, that New Zealand should undertake an "awareness campaign" that targets all sectors of society and concerns the broader aspects of social participation, notably the attitudinal barriers that are a key driver of social exclusion.

And lest anyone forget – the recommendation spells it out that Disabled Persons organisations should be full and active partners in decisions, design and delivery.

I have to tell you – the call for an awareness campaign is one that I have often heard from the disability community and I am so proud that the government has listened.

In Budget 2010 funding was made available for a social change programme and currently officials are consulting with advocates who had direct personal experience working with the media or expertise in marketing social change, and with representatives from the disability sector.

We want to get the scope and structure right and to involve organisations representing disabled people.

It is very important to me that government hears the voices, opinions and experiences of disabled people particularly when we are considering options that affect disabled people.

The government is committed to improving the lives of disabled people. In February 2009, with the establishment of the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues we honoured that commitment.

The Ministerial Committee provides visible leadership and accountability for implementing the New Zealand Disability Strategy and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and to set a coherent direction for disability issues across government.

As chair of the Committee I have been able to work closely with key Ministers from different portfolios so we can better focus the activities and policy development of various government agencies on a common goal - making a real difference in disabled people's lives.

To do this we are developing a single disability action plan to make the most of the resources we have.

A cross-Government approach is absolutely essential in making progress.

But equally important, is the active role for disabled persons, through disabled people’s organisations, to have a formal voice in monitoring their rights.

In the international context, it has been recognised that one of the things that made the Convention such a good Convention – was that disabled people were involved in the drafting.

The Convention therefore was based on the real experiences of disabled people and New Zealand benefited from this knowledge.

The Office for Disability Issues is currently asking for feedback on what changes can be made that would enable disabled people to live independently, be able to move around their communities and be able to provide better work opportunities for disabled people.

As a very topical example, the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues recently heard from Martin Sneddon CEO of Rugby New Zealand 2011 about the dedicated booking system for disabled people and how seats for disabled people at all grounds are all priced on the lowest category seats regardless of the location of the seats. They are reviewing all grounds to check wheelchair accessible seating and services to support this seating. And they are also ensuring that shuttle buses and disabled parking will be available at all venues.

I am really passionate about Access Tourism and so I was really interested in your recommendation that an industry standard should be developed to signal a non-disabling environment and universal design features of accessible accommodation and tourism features. Its really important that you connect to the work that Minnie Baragwanath from Auckland City Council is doing in this area. Please contact Dr Jan Scown at the Office of Disability Issues if you want to get in contact with Minnie.

I want to thank you for the energy you have put into this report.

I believe that the key to improve the lives of disabled people will be by continuing the conversation with disabled persons and their families; and disabled people’s organisations as well as the cross government work on the single disability action plan.

Ultimately disabled people want what non-disabled people can take for granted – a chance to feel connected, an opportunity to participate and an ability to share good times and bad with others.

As a nation I am really clear that New Zealand must continue to earn its reputation as a forward thinking world leader in putting the rights of disabled people centre stage, by making sure the voices of disabled people are heard. To this end I am very proud to launch this very impressive report, Disability Rights in Aotearoa New Zealand 2010.

ENDS

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