'More often than not, barriers are made out of peoples' ignorance towards something different.' - Consultation comment

One in five people in New Zealand reports having a long-term impairment. Because everyone comes from different backgrounds, holds different beliefs and has different needs, there is a great diversity of people who have impairments.

The key common factor among people with impairments is that they face many lifelong barriers to their full participation in New Zealand society.

Attitudes have been identified, through consultation, as the major barrier that operates at all levels of daily life in the general population. Attitudes and ignorance 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.

Stigma, prejudice and discrimination affect our behaviours. Sometimes the combination of attitudes and behaviours can seem to create almost insurmountable barriers, for example, whole systems or organisations can become a barrier much in the way that institutionalised racism operates.

When I'm a child

  • For disabled children, 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.

When I'm a youth

  • Disabled people are much less likely to have educational qualifications than non-disabled people.

When I'm an adult

  • Disabled people are much less likely to be employed. For instance, the unemployment rate for people with ongoing mental illness is very high. Half of recent complaints to the Human Rights Commission in regard to disability related to employment.
  • The public service employs a far lower proportion of disabled people than exist in the general working age population, despite equal employment opportunity policies.
  • Disabled people often have reduced housing options through poverty or factors such as discrimination when neighbours object to supported houses being established in their area.

When I'm older

  • Older people experience difficulties when their problems are seen as an inevitable part of ageing. Faced with this attitude, they may miss the opportunity to remain able and independent through rehabilitation, correction of health problems or provision of support services.
  • For older disabled people, one of the biggest problems can be 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.

My whole life

  • Despite New Zealand having strong standards for physical accessibility, access to public facilities and other buildings such as marae is poor. On top of that, most public transport is not independently accessible, and car modifications are expensive.
  • People in higher socio-economic areas are more likely to access and receive support services than people in low socio-economic areas. Reflecting this situation, Māori as well as Pacific peoples are typically low users of support services.
  • Forty-four percent of Māori with a long-term impairment report that they have an unmet need for some kind of service or assistance. Twenty-nine percent of non-Māori with a long-term impairment report an unmet need. The majority of support for everyday activities comes from families.
  • Poor literacy is a problem for many and is a cause of communication barriers. This problem extends to Braille and sign language literacy.
  • Disabled people, especially those with psychiatric or intellectual impairments, are often shut out of social networks and full participation in community activities, because people are ignorant or fearful of behaviour they perceive as different.
  • As a group, disabled people 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 disabled children can be curtailed by their need to provide support for their children or live and work in areas where they can access family or professional support.
  • Disabled women are more likely to have low incomes than men or non-disabled women. Seventy-one percent of women with long-term impairments report an annual personal income of less than $15,000.
  • Disabled people are almost three times as likely to get income from a government benefit than non-disabled people (excluding superannuation from this calculation).

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 disabled people - by removing the barriers to their participation

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