MOE and Disability Groups not doing enough for Inclusive Education

A recent outcry from parents of disabled children has re-enforced the terrible reality that once school education concludes, the battle gets that much harder and that much more unfair.

The Ministry of Education may claim to have the correct systems for a successful transition out of school and into tertiary education or employment in place. The current system of transition, or lack thereof, simply isn’t working for the majority of disabled New Zealanders in education. Just giving the families information isn’t enough, it should be the job of the Ministry to ensure that outcomes are being met, because if not, how is the system truly inclusive as a whole?

Nobody should be forced to stay at school until they are 21 years old. Having to do so is disabling, and the future implications are dire. All this fails to mention that is also NOT inclusive at all.

Employers will look at the time a person spent in school, and many won’t distinguish the difference that a disability plays in that. Parents of disabled children are being forced to do a major disservice, but in a lot of cases it still remains the only viable option they have.

The choice doesn’t enable independence at all; however the alternative is just as unfair. That alternative would see the disabled person sit at home each day, or they’d attend vocational services that do nothing to enhance their future prospects for employment, or a meaningful social life for that matter.

The real problem here isn’t the Ministry, or even a lot of the schools for that matter. The issue is the same that it has always been, once the child turns 18 there is next to no support for them. There is too much focus on the child and not the adult, but it’s when someone becomes an adult that the need for equal education and fair opportunities at employment become that much greater.

This is clearly an ongoing discussion and one that isn’t new to anyone. Better systems need to be put in place and a greater amount of accountability must occur. If this doesn’t happen, disabled people will continue to fall through the cracks of the education system.

Ethical Brothels and Sex for Disabled People

The recent story about “ethical brothels” published by NZME has once again exposed an intolerable truth. New Zealand’s society still judges those who work in the sex industry and the consumers who’ve made it the “oldest profession in the book”.

The term brothel, and the wider ideologies about prostitution, have incurred many stigmas that haven’t changed since the sex industry became more prominent in New Zealand. Prostitution was made legal in this country over 14 years ago; it’s hardly an outrage for there to be such a high consumer base. Some critics still argue that the sex industry shouldn’t be discussed in mainstream culture; and in the disability world the discussions around this are only just beginning.

But yet, people (whether they are disabled or not) who purchase these legal sex services are labelled and stigmatized by a society that is completely hypocritical.

In 2017, society is more sexualised and diverse than ever, it’s just a question of those people who actually chose to accept that. The issue at hand here isn’t about brothels and how they choose to run their business, it’s the morals of the onlookers. Those onlookers are just like you and I, they form an opinion based on their own bias and current life situation.

It isn’t for them to say what’s right and wrong, because what seems to be the “moral” thing to do in their eyes may be entirely out of the question for someone else. There is nothing wrong with men, or women for that matter, to engage in sex services that are provided on a legal and safe basis.

The lady running the brothel in the recent “ethical prostitution” story that ran on the Herald last week raised a perfectly valid point when she said that men seek the services of the sex industry for entirely plausible reasons. Some may have a stale marriage, others may be too busy caught up in work to have a relationship but still want that intimate human touch. The onlookers who judge both those who work as prostitutes, and the people who are consumers of it, simply believe that it’s impossible to achieve such intimacy with a sex worker. That’s entirely incorrect and it’s ignorant to hold such beliefs.

People with disabilities can find relationships and achieve healthy sex lives without the help of the sex industry. This has been proven. But for those who choose to access the services that the sex industry provides, that should be equally as acceptable. People with disabilities are often looked as as asexual; this means that they have no desire for sex. Some viewpoints are often that the disabled are incapable of having sex and cannot feel the pleasures associated with it. Both claims are untrue.

Sex and physical intimacy, or the lack thereof, for people with disabilities in one of the most rampant and undiscussed issues that’s ever faced the disabled community worldwide.

 

Ensuring that Support Workers are fully informed

A lot more could be done to keep support workers around New Zealand fully up to date with all the changes and notes of importance in a rapidly changing disability sector.

The way people want their supports delivered is changing, and with that, the requirements of the modern support worker who is responsible for delivering those supports is changing as well.

Supports are more flexible, some routines aren’t as structured, but a lot of support workers training actually reflects that of the old model. It’s not as simple as telling a support worker that the person they support wants more flexibility and control. You need to explain how the funding model works, but most importantly, support workers need to know that they are doing the job properly.

A lot of people receiving support won’t speak up if they aren’t happy. But the more information and regular communication support workers have, the better they will be when working out in the field.

Two years ago, CCS Disability Action’s Waikato region were looking at starting a newsletter for support workers. I myself was involved in the discussions surrounding this project, but despite my enthusiasm, for whatever reason it just never came to fruition.

To their credit, CCS Disability Action does release a few regional newsletters per year that give a lot of information about the latest happenings in the sector. But with that said, there isn’t a publication that is aimed just at the support workers.

Sometimes support workers feel “cut off” from their own place of work; they just go on with their business as the days pass but don’t really have a connection to what is happening. In some cases, they don’t have a lot of contact with their coordinators either.

Support workers need some sort of reoccurring communication, it is important for any employee as it gives them a sense of their performances in what is a very interpersonal job. It is also a good opportunity to offer support, resource, and information, which is to the benefit of not only the support worker but the person they are supporting.

The PSA Journal is a good publication that many will be referred onto, but a lot of support workers don’t sign up to the Union and therefore don’t receive it.

It is the responsibility of the organisation to provide effective and regular communication to their support workers who are out in the field. Some organisations are good at that, and some are seriously lacking.

Sex & Disability: The Sector’s “Complex” Topic

As I will state on social media when I post this blog; I want to reaffirm the message that I am writing this blog as myself, and not a representative of any organisation in the sports journalism field or the disability sector. These thoughts are entirely my own and are my version of events.

It was December 2015, and I’d been thinking about sex and disability for a long time. I knew that I really needed to turn my thoughts into action.

I started writing as much as I could about the subject. I came at it from the perspective of a disabled person, but I wanted to advocate for those who weren’t lucky enough, or brave enough, to make the decisions that I’ve made in the past. That’s right, seeing a sex worker, and especially losing your virginity to one, is a brave choice to make for anybody. It’s not the way you’d imagine that first experience going, and it’s very daunting. Following that, all the moralistic thoughts and emotions are another battle on their own.

Without CCS Disability Action, my employers at the time, the thing with TV3 would never have happened, and that’s when the subject reached a national audience.

To the surprise of nobody, the feedback was relatively negative. The ‘powers that be’ at TV3 Story turned it into a profile about a guy in a wheelchair asking the government to fund sex worker visits for all disabled people. However, most of the country saw it as the guy in the wheelchair wanting all the money for himself, and it sparked massive uproar.

In that story, I am quoted as saying that sex is more accessible for most people than it is for those with disabilities. What I should have said was that it was more acceptable, acknowledged, and probable. Because it is; people with disabilities are not seen as sexual beings capable of having sexual thoughts, desires, or abilities to engage in a “good” sex life.

The week after the story hit the media, CCS Disability Action wrote a column in the NZ Herald that labelled the topic of sexuality as it pertains to the disabled “a complex issue”. Due to my employment with them, I couldn’t exactly go public with how infuriated I was at some of the things Joy Gunn wrote in that column, and I congratulated her on social media.

The story had drawn so much criticism, and many people in CCS Disability Action were uncomfortable. An insider has informed me that the whole reason why TV3 got the tip of my work was because of a partnership between CCS Disability Action and a company called Ideas Shop.

Apparently, the story had put sexuality for the disabled into a somewhat negative light, but I was just glad that the light had been shone on it at all, because it was about time.

Joy Gunn left the organisation just a couple of months later.

One of the things I was disappointed in was when Gunn said that the organisation didn’t support my idea that the Government should fund “his need”. It was never about my needs at all, I was simply sharing the experience of how I had lost my virginity, I wasn’t asking the government to pitch in financially towards my own sex life.

Secondly, Gunn never once discussed the lack of access to money that many disabled people in New Zealand have. Yes, some disabled people work, and others are on the Supported Living Payment, but particularly in that second example, many aren’t able to save any money, let alone save enough to hire a sex worker.

In the months following that saga, CCS Disability Action released their first Sexuality, Gender Identity, and Intimate Relationships policy.

It’s my hope that CCS Disability Action and other leading organisations really do begin to start more robust discussion around this area. Advocating on sex and disability is indeed a very complex task, but it’s not an impossible one. Government funding sex workers for those with disabilities isn’t the ideal scenario, but it’s an option for some disabled people in very unique situations. Perhaps more research into such unique situations needs to occur.

Sex & Disability: The Public Morality

The issue of the taxpayer subsidising sex for people with disabilities in New Zealand isn’t about the cost, it’s the morality that society has toward the entire notion.

As has been reported previously, people with disabilities in Holland can claim the cost of sexual services as a medical expense. Recently, the Green Party in Germany pitched the idea of a similar scheme, where both the disabled and the elderly would have the costs of seeing an escort or accessing therapeutic sexual services covered by the government.

The criteria for the idea in Germany isn’t exactly robust; it simply states that an escort subsidy would improve the lives of the disabled and elderly, with the end goal of them moving on to a much healthier life.

In 2010, an investigation uncovered a similar program running under the table in England. It caused massive debate among local taxpayers, but several advocates have said that the consideration for taxpayer funded sex services for the disabled is plausible.

But in New Zealand, no such avenue is available, under the table or otherwise. The conversation is tough and the outcome is anything but plausible. The public, the government, and service providers just won’t have it.

It is hard to argue the benefits of sex, especially for people with physical conditions. The issue is, most governments and citizens don’t understand the needs, and this is in direct relation to a misunderstanding and stigma surrounding disability in general.

According to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; people are entitled to the same range, quality, and standard of free or affordable healthcare and programmes as provided to other persons, including the area of sexual and reproductive health.

This is just another example of how New Zealand, and many other countries, aren’t living up to one of their core, binding documents. Millions of dollars is spent on rehabilitation services; for people with both physical and intellectual conditions, and yet the benefits of sexual expression during rehabilitation continue to be ignored.

In a column recently released on theconversation.com; readers were reminded that the discussions about sex and sexuality for disabled people have previously been ignored. The column argued that this is because the focus is always on human rights and discrimination in the workplace. Recently in New Zealand there has been a lot of focus on education after the government announced reforms that will directly impact disabled New Zealanders rights to a fair education.

The sex industry has long been demonised, but prostitution is perfectly legal in New Zealand, and it has been for a long time. The people who work in the sex industry, men and woman, are seen as drug addicts and as contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted disease. But for people with disabilities, they often rely on a third party to help them access sex services. In New Zealand, that third party help is hard to come by.

This is an ongoing discussion; but it’s time the robust investigation into this issue gathered momentum.

Friend v Support Worker: An inhuman law

With the Residential Service Strategy under review, some of the ideologies about a Support Workers role in the life of people with disabilities need to be looked at.

You’d be surprised at the number of the elderly, and people with disabilities, who have next to no family or friends present in their lives. A lot of them live in care homes, retirement villages, and in group homes.

In comes a Support Worker, wearing that particular hat, and they are paid to assist someone, or a group of people, with their personal and community needs for a set number of hours per day. These workers, in a lot of cases, are paid the minimum wage.

As I’ve stated in previous blogs, the majority of people that I’ve spoken to who have Support Workers coming in and out of their homes see them as far more than just supportive aids. Also, a lot of experienced Support Workers have said to me that, over time, it is hard not to develop friendships with the people they support.

How, when you are spending so much time with a person each week, can you not begin to develop some kind of bond with them? There is, I believe, a double-standard and power game at play, and one that leaves the “client”, or person receiving support, always on the losing side.

The boundaries conversation is a flawed one, but, you also have to be professional, so where does the actual “line in the sand” exist?

Well for some, it just doesn’t.

Others will take the professional boundary “rule” so far that it becomes a situation where the person receiving the support, the person who’s funding pays for that workers job, can often feel like they mean nothing more than a paycheque to someone that is walking in and out of their homes.

A home is a persons place on sanctuary, comfort, and for many, a very private and intimate place.

Attitudes behind Residential Services and those who hire Support Workers as part of an agency or care provider are often struck with a very tight budget. Some people argue that if the pay was better, there would be more intention on the Support Worker’s part to really care about their job.

I am not saying that every Support Worker doesn’t “really care” about their job, and I am certainly not saying that they don’t care enough about the people they support.

I am saying that there is an attitude that exists which says that people with disabilities are extremely vulnerable, and can be taken advantage of easily. Because of this, very tight restrictions are put in place at a management level.

People receiving the support are the agency, or care providers, bread and butter. They bring in a lot of funding, and the contracts to receive such funding are very heavily contested. But where do the people fit into this?

The entire conversation about boundaries, and rules of not associating with clients outside of the workplace are in place because of moments that have led to abuse.

Because of the select few, both Support Worker and the person receiving support, who have taken advantage in select situations, the whole system has now become one that focuses on prevention rather than prosperity.

You can understand why, but it’s a tough price to pay for people requiring support that simply don’t have friends or family in their lives.

For all the damage that the boundaries conversation does to the spirit and mindset of people requiring support, perhaps what is doing the most damage and causing the most vulnerability is the fact that a lot of Residential Services and Support Workers within them go un-monitored for weeks, sometimes months, at a time.

That’s right, abuse can and still does occur.

Be at physical, emotional, or a combination of both, too many poor attitudes and a lack of proper training has contributed to it. But the lack of financial ability for proper training, coupled with Service Managers taking on too many different services at a time, is without doubt the biggest factor at play.

People with Disabilities need to keep putting their hands up

December 3rd celebrated the International Day of Persons with Disability, and it is a reflection of all the hard work that history suggested we needed to do well before now.

Don’t get me wrong, life for people with disabilities has improved so much, but there is a taboo surrounding it that still exists.

The perception of disability has so often been negative, that disability is something to avoid, and as CCS Disability Action’s Samuel Murray wrote this week, days like December 3rd try to get rid of that mindset.

It is mindsets that drive the disability sector forward, but these can also do their part in holding it back.  Continue reading People with Disabilities need to keep putting their hands up

Josh Perry eyes Government with Enabling NZ

One of New Zealand’s most vocal disability advocates has launched a political party that has some big goals to make New Zealand a more inclusive and fair society.

Enabling NZ has been formed, and Perry hopes to see more individualised disability funding, increased accessible housing, as well as better accessible public transport and inclusive education systems.

The decision to launch his own political party comes after Perry missed out on a seat on the Dunedin City Council during this years Local Elections.  Continue reading Josh Perry eyes Government with Enabling NZ

Banning Seclusion Rooms came too late for some disabled students

Seclusion is unacceptable in any school, and recent incidents continue a sorry trend for the Ministry of Education.

In the aftermath of what happened at Mirimar Central School, there is no question that better measures need to be put in place on how to deal with challenging behavior in the classroom. Clearly, Mirimar Central School was ill-equipped to manage some behavioral issues that occur with disabilities like Autism. Continue reading Banning Seclusion Rooms came too late for some disabled students

Sex & Disability: Intimacy Coaches

It is time that sex and disability were in the same conversation, because this is an issue of human rights. Overseas, what is being called an ‘intimacy coach’ is helping to fill the gap for people with disabilities, and it is entirely legal.