New Zealand Disability Strategy Discussion Document
Barriers - A Disabling Society
Disability is a common issue. One in five people in New Zealand experience disability. That’s nearly a quarter of the population.
Disability is also a complex issue. Because everyone comes from different backgrounds, holds different beliefs and has different needs, there is a great diversity of people who experience disability.
The key common factor is that people experiencing disability today face many lifelong barriers to their full participation in New Zealand society.
Attitudinal barriers in the general population operate at all levels of daily life. Attitudes make their presence felt as stigma, prejudice and discrimination. In the year to June 1999, disability discrimination was the largest category of complaints to the Human Rights Commission.
People experiencing disability are much less likely to have educational qualifications than people who do not experience disability. Basic literacy is a problem for many. This problem extends to sign language literacy, even though sign language is the first language of Deaf people. Similarly, Braille is the primary literacy medium for blind people, but a recent survey indicates that up to one in three persons registered with the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind are unable to read what they themselves have written or to access any other form of written or printed material.
People experiencing disability are less likely to be employed. Half of recent complaints to the Human Rights Commission in regard to disability related to employment.
Among the working age population, 17 percent experience disability. In 1999, 10 percent of people employed in the public service identified as experiencing disability. This figure is only considered "reasonably accurate", partly because there are many different ways of defining "disability". The uncertainty surrounding even these basic statistics illustrates the challenge of collecting information about people who experience disability.
There are communication, transport and physical barriers for people who experience disability.
Over 30 percent of people experiencing disability report that they have an unmet need for some kind of service or assistance. People experiencing disability do not have enough control over the services they are accessing.
As a group, people experiencing disability are likely to have lower incomes and fewer financial and family resources than the general population. This economic disadvantage is compounded by the financial cost of disability. The earning potential of families with children experiencing disability can be curtailed by the need to live and work in areas where they can get support for their children.
Women experiencing disability are more likely to have low incomes than all men are, and they are similarly disadvantaged compared with women who do not experience disability.
People experiencing disability are almost three times as likely to get income from a government benefit than people who do not experience disability (excluding superannuation from this calculation).
People in higher socioeconomic areas are more likely to access and receive support services than people in low socioeconomic areas. In effect, Māori as well as Pacific people are typically low users of support services.
Older people experience difficulties when their problems are seen as an inevitable part of ageing. Faced with this attitude, they miss the opportunity to remain able and independent through rehabilitation, correction of health problems or provision of support services.
For older people experiencing disability, one of the biggest problems is being denied the opportunity to remain in their familiar surroundings and "age in place". Even in their own homes, some can feel isolated and insecure if they have limited contact with families, friends and their community. The majority of disability support service funding is spent on older people, and this proportion is likely to increase as New Zealand’s population ages.
For children experiencing disability, it is hard to get the best start to their life ahead. Children’s needs can put big demands, including financial pressure, on their families and whānau.
Although the Government provides a range of services, the experience of accessing these services can be very disabling because sometimes they are not flexible enough to meet individual needs. To get a benefit, a piece of equipment, or maybe some help at home you might have to tell your story to three or four different people - just to get what you need at that particular time. Next year those three or four people may have moved on, with a new lot of assessors in their place. These kind of arrangements and turnover of staff are disabling because the person, their families and whānau spend a lot of time fighting the system, in order to get access to the same opportunities other New Zealanders have.
The Government needs to help open the way into community life for people experiencing disability - by removing the barriers to their participation.
"As a wheelchair user I’m restricted when it comes to meeting family and friends in their homes. I have access to public buildings, and friends can come to visit me but I can return very few visits. Why shouldn’t I be able to drop in for a coffee when I want to?
I also feel for young people who use wheelchairs. They cannot leave home and go flatting when and where they like in the way that many of their friends are able to do. It’s a big issue for older people too - they suddenly find that the family home they’ve lived in for years is no longer suitable and they have to move.
I would like to see all homes wheelchair accessible. There are things the Government could do - for a start, all future state houses could be built without doorsteps. But there are also things that architects, designers and builders could do if they thought about it. I’d like to see architectural and design awards for private buildings where accessibility is beautifully and stunningly presented as a feature, and as an essential part of what a home needs."
There are no minimum standards for access to and within private dwellings for people experiencing disability. There is also a big shortage of accessible housing available for people with disabilities. Demand is twice what is available.
1. What do you think are the main barriers faced by people experiencing disability?