Disability Confident Forgets Horrible Business Attitude Towards Hiring Disabled Workers

Disability Confident might be a nice term that looks good on paper, but should disabled people have to accept a toolkit-like approach for businesses to consider hiring them? 

Employment for people with disabilities remains at a shockingly low percentage in New Zealand. New initiatives like Employability (a project launched by the Minister for Disability Issues) haven’t worked well, and Enabling Good Lives has decided to drop its push for employment as part of its support options.

Stats released last week indicate that disabled people are twice as likely to be unemployed than those without disabilities. The report also suggested that a person with a disability earns $200 a week less than colleagues without additional support needs.

Disability Confident: What Is It?

Disability Confident is a campaign that aims to provide employers with all the information they need to successfully hire a disabled person.

It highlights the benefit to a business, and it also provides information on how an employer can apply for grants. These grants can be used to modify an office to make it more accessible, or to hire a buddy that supports the disabled employee so that they can work safely.

Disability Confident is a tool kit of sorts, a “how to” for hiring someone with a disability.

But crucially, Disability Confident doesn’t do much to address the attitudes that prevent disabled people from gaining meaningful employment.

Problems With Employing Disabled People Start With Attitudes

Simply giving businesses the information they need that shows how to get disabled people into the workforce isn’t going to see the stats improve. The discrimination still exists, and the attitudes that prevent disabled people getting into work start back during education.

If young learners with disabilities continue to be excluded from mainstream schools, the perception amongst their peers will have the same affect. Future business owners, and future leaders of the country need to see that disabled people, whilst requiring some support, can be worthwhile members of the workforce with something to offer. Segregating disabled people doesn’t help that vision, it does the complete opposite.

And that’s why, in 2017, vocational services remain the one and only option for a lot of people with disabilities.

The Problem With Vocational Services

Contracts that provide funding for vocational services are highly sought after by Service Providers in New Zealand. But with all the change that the sector is seeing, including a greater push for individually tailored support, do these services still have real relevance?

Yes, but they don’t provide disabled people with meaningful employment opportunities in mainstream business.

The vocational service option can often trick disabled people into thinking that the purpose of participation is for a real job. However, the majority of vocational options for disabled people don’t pay, and until that changes, no real job opportunities can be expected.

Vocational services often promise a pathway to paid work opportunities, but in a lot of cases, this is a false. Disabled people are forced to find other avenues once a service shuts down, wait until the next one begins, or settle for living on the Supported Living Payment (SLP) with little incentive to get off it.

How is this a real quality of life? Being forced to live on benefit and occasionally venture out into a barely accessible community when circumstances allow it to be possible.


In defence of Nicky Wagner and those comments on Twitter

A tweet sent out by the Minister for Disability issues was taken way out of context – purely because of the word disability.

Nicky Wagner has apologised for her comments on Twitter where she implied that spending a day on the Auckland Harbour would be preferable to meetings with representatives of people with disabilities.

The reaction was immediate – and it was the opportunity that the disabled community needed to once again remind Wagner (and the National Party) of the importance of saying the right things and not leaving anything open to interpretation.


To be completely fair to Wagner – her tweet wasn’t disrespectful at all. People saying that it was need to stop being so precious and grow up. Who wouldn’t want to be out enjoying the sun on what was a beautiful winters day?

The mistake Wagner actually made was using the word disability in her comments. But let’s get to the bigger issue.

Just because Wagner is the Minister for Disability Issues and she happened to be doing work in that area is besides the point here. Is the disabled community going to take itself so seriously that it can use a simple statement made on social media and turn it into a political issue?


Its a great reminder for everyone about how easily words can be misinterpreted. Because the term disability was used, critics turned her tweet into an example of her disrespect and lack of interest in the disabled community – how they came to that conclusion is beyond my comprehension.

Calls for Wagner to resign are not a direct result of the tweet, more so, its due to the failings of a Government that continues to give people with disabilities a mediocre service.

The timing of Wagner’s tweet is bad, given her recent fallout with IDEA Services and the quick push through of a complete system transformation for Disability Support Services.

Just where to now? Who knows… but Wagner needs to tread ultra carefully now.

System Transformation workshops off to underwhelming start

Two workshops down and not a lot to show for the co-design group behind transforming the disability support system in New Zealand.

Throughout April, the first of several workshops were held in Wellington that saw a small group of disabled people, advocates, and service providers come together to work with Government.

The purpose is to design a new system for supporting disabled people; but about all that’s been achieved so far is discussion on Enabling Good Lives principles and clarifying the meaning of Mainstream First.

Workshops continue in Wellington this week, but the group have already convinced project manager Sacha O’Dea to schedule additional meetings in a bid to get the process complete in time for cabinet’s reading in June. More work will need to be done in between meetings as well.

There was a lack of clarity of the actual scope behind transforming the system, and that was a major cause of anxiety in the first meeting. Finer details were cleared up and the official line from O’Dea to the group is that the scope of transformation is for all specialist disability support services in New Zealand. That adds up to around 33,000 people in total – with no word on the restrictions regarding eligibility criteria.

The second workshop saw clarification over the term ‘Mainstream First’ – a big buzzword behind new approaches to services that enable more choice and control. Here is the decided meaning:

“Everybody experiences full participation and inclusion within their community (people, places, assets, infrastructure and supports) as of right and can choose funded supports to enhance and facilitate this.”

The group is keen on getting into the actual design process – something that hasn’t really happened throughout the first month of the project.

Hard Work & Real Action Needs To Begin Now

There is no doubt that the co-design group faces an immense task over the next eight weeks.

It goes without saying that whatever the future looks like for services, and more importantly the process, a key ingredient needs to be simplicity. One assessment, one host, and a greater level of flexibility to go along with the person as their life journey continues. Don’t do things to, for, or on behalf of the person with a disability, do it with them.

This isn’t a case of creating a “brave new world”, it’s about creating a fair system that does include a much greater level of financial investment. The money side matters just as much as the promise of a better system, one cannot be a given without the other.

While some great minds are present on this group, just how much can be achieved remains the huge question.

In an election year, time is of the absolute essence, and it’s debatable that Minister Nicky Wagner will leave anything to chance when it comes to this so called “system transformation”. Re inventing the wheel isn’t going to happen by June.

There is a risk that this co design group could be just another example of great talk, with positive enthusiasm and quiet cynicism, followed by mediocre action.


Minister for Disability Issues lashes out in Parliament

Minister Wagner lashed out in Parliament this afternoon. Photo: TheWorkingBlog

In a remarkable afternoon in Parliament; the Minister for Disability Issues took aim at IDEA Services and labelled the provider irresponsible.

Opposition Labour MP Poto Williams has accused Nicky Wagner of reacting in an appalling manner when asked about cuts to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) support announced by IDEA Services on Tuesday.

In a rant of sorts, Wagner accused IDEA Services of doing a U-turn on discussions about re-signing the contract which would have seen the ASD support continue. Wagner also claims that IDEA refused to enter into transitional services before a new provider was found.

“After previously indicating they would renew contracts, they gave no notice their clients. They also refused to agree to a temporary three month contract”, Wagner said. “I say that IDEA Services is being totally irresponsible. We all know change is difficult, especially for this cohort of clients where routine and security is so important”, Wagner added.

In the aftermath of Wagner’s comments, the Ministry of Health issued a statement. Toni Atkinson, the senior media advisor for the Ministry, reaffirmed the Government’s stance that increased levels of funding has been injected into IDEA Services.

“IDEA have been funded $2.3million per annum to deliver these ASD services. They, like other providers, need to configure their service within the available funding”, Atkinson said.

Despite a long relationship between IDEA Services and the Ministry; it appears that the relationship could now be over.

“We acknowledge IDEA’s long standing commitment to the provision of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) services through New Zealand. We are disappointed that the relationship with families and the Ministry is to end in this way”, Atkinson said.

Reaction on social media has been of shock and disappointment, particularly at Wagner for her comments. One woman said the Minister was in “la la land” if she couldn’t work out how underfunded the disability sector is.

The Ministry say that other providers have already showed willingness to pick up the ASD contracts. No firm date has been given for new services and an announcement won’t be made until a new provider is confirmed.

Atkinson says that the wait will continue for the high amount of people on waiting lists.

“People on wait lists will stay on the waiting list until new services are in place. The Ministry will ask IDEA to provide a copy of the current waiting list so that these people can be prioritised once alternative services are in place.”

The Ministry estimates that currently 446 active clients are involved in services and 728 families across New Zealand are on waiting lists.

Ministry of Health make further comment on ASD Support reductions

A senior media advisor at the Ministry of Health has provided further information on the recent cuts to services supporting people in the ASD community.

According to the Ministry; an email sent by IDEA Services last week was confirmation that the provider would not be renewing the ASD contracts.

No one has said that IDEA Services won’t continue to provide any support for the ASD community, in this blog or otherwise. IHC New Zealand boss Ralph Jones said that the organisation will continue to advocate on behalf of all people with intellectual disabilities.

But the fact remains, IDEA Services won’t be running these popular services and the hundreds of families on waiting lists will have to stay in limbo.

For a long time now, people have struggled to take what the Government says regarding funding for disability support at face value. This latest example in terms of the apparent reduction in funding for ASD support services is the latest example.

After the email exchange between IDEA Services and the Ministry, a letter was sent out to people receiving support for ASD services. In that letter, IDEA Services gave this official statement:

“Unfortunately with the underfunding of over $500,000 in the 2016/2017 year and no offer of an increase for the coming year we cannot continue to provide the service”, IDEA Specialist Services General Manager said.

The Minister for Disability issues has said that funding isn’t being reduced, for IDEA Services or any other organisation. This is in direct contrast  to what was claimed in the letter.

Costs for all organisations are on the rise and some have speculated that the $500,000 underfund for IDEA Services isn’t specific to ASD contracts. What IDEA Services are saying is that there has been insufficient funding to continue ASD support services moving forward.

Some members of the ASD community say that IDEA Services didn’t renew the contract with the Ministry of Health due to being underfunded as costs for services and programmes continue to rise. They also say that this was not a new problem either.

The mainstream media are currently working on this story.

Minister denies claims of reduction in funding for IDEA Services

The Ministry of Health and the Minister for Disability Issues have both denied a reduction in funding for IDEA Services led to cuts of support programmes for people with Autism.

Tony Atkinson, Disability Support Services Group Manager, rejected claims of funding reductions leading to IDEA Services pulling out of providing three programmes that support and educate people in the ASD community.

“There has been no reduction or cut in funding to IDEA Services”, Atkinson said.

The Ministry and IDEA Services want to limit disruption and the gaps between the end of one service and the beginning of other ones. Atkinson says that alternative arrangements for affected services are being worked through.

Just what those other services will be, and how accommodating they are to the thousands of people in the ASD community remains to be seen.

Aside from the thousands due to be affected by the cuts announced via a letter distributed from IDEA Services on Tuesday, many more are still on waiting lists as well. In the letter, IDEA pointed to an underfunding of $500,000 in the 2015/16 financial year as a big factor in their decision to cease continuation of three ASD programmes.

After negotiations with the Ministry of Health, a new contract was not signed. Atkinson says that the Ministry will be seeking alternate providers to continue services for ASD clients and also the others affected by home care and facility based respite cuts.

The Minister for Disability Issues palmed off suggestions of reductions and cuts also. When contacted by this blog, Nicky Wagner says she had no knowledge of the letter sent out by IDEA Services and questioned some of the quotes published on this blog.

“I haven’t seen this letter but nothing you quote is correct”, Wagner said.

Yesterday, the Minister announced the members selected onto a co-design group that will be tasked with transforming disability supports. Some concerns have been raised by members of the ASD community about their representation on the group.

Gabrielle Hogg is advocate for people on the Autism spectrum and says that a lack of representation goes against a call from the United Nations to have people with Autism in decision making roles on Government advisory committees.

Hogg says that she is very concerned that people on the spectrum are being ignored.

“Autistic individuals feel very much locked out from having direct feedback with being on the group”, Hogg said.

More to come.

Thousands on the Autism Spectrum have support cut

Members of the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) community have been left reeling after news that IDEA Services will no longer provide support to families due to funding cuts by the Ministry of Health.

Three popular and successful support programmes will get the chop, leaving many on the spectrum without their day bases and no education for families. It also means that the several thousand on waiting lists now have to miss out, at least until something else is sorted.

The news comes as a massive blow to the ASD community, and IHC New Zealand’s boss Ralph Jones says that the timing of the announcement comes as an “extra blow” that is “devastating” for the organisation and the people it supports. Just a few weeks ago, Jones also announced that several support services would be cut, including home support and facility based respite.

Other providers are now set to not only bare the increase in demand from the over 12,000 people affected by those cuts, but now also the large numbers involved with ASD programmes.

ASD programmes run by IDEA Services to be cut are:

Growing Up With Austism

ASD Plus

Communication & Behaviour

In total, IDEA Services was underfunded by a total $500,000 in the past financial year as the Ministry of Health continues its cut backs. This news comes despite the fact that Minister for Disability issues said that funding has increased by 4% each year throughout the sector.

IDEA Services has been providing large amounts of support to the ASD community since 2013 under a contact with the Ministry of Health.

The Government simply must inject more funding into disability support. If not, big cuts like this are only going to continue. Labour MP Grant Robertson took to social media to air his concerns, but very few others in Parliament have touched on the issue.

“We should restore the funding for this as part of a comprehensive and diverse set of support programmes for those with autism. It is what a caring and inclusive country would do”, Robertson said.

People suffering from autism and their families have taken to Facebook to air their concerns. One woman said that IDEA Services had done a lot of good work to develop autism awareness training but the Ministry of Health hadn’t provided enough investment for it to take place. Another woman, who works for a National Group Organisation (NGO), said that families are being left with less and less support while workloads for organisations only continue to lose workers who are fed up with being unpaid for extra hours.

This blog has contacted this Minister for Disability Issues and the Ministry of Health for comment.

The investment behind impending Disability Support overhaul

With just $1.8million set aside for the major overhaul to disability support, the Government could well be making similar mistakes that it has in the past,

Some people say that the intent behind the Government’s proposal for change is not to the real benefit of disabled people in New Zealand.

Frankly, it’s hard to argue with that. The way the Government choose to take the transformation of disability support will be interesting, but  there is going to be losers, and a lot of them in New Zealand’s disabled community.

Calls for total system change have been rife since a report back in 2008. Then, concerns were that the support system restricted people’s choice and control over the supports and structure of their lives.

The proof of similar mistakes occurring again can be seen in a cabinet paper that proposed system transformation to disability support.

The entire project has a total financial investment of $1.8million. But claims that that sum is an investment by Government are also up for scrutiny. According to the cabinet paper, the $1.8million used to fund the system transformation project has been taken from a $3million contingency already established by the Government. That bucket of $3million was set aside for supporting further work and development of Enabling Good Lives.

A breakdown of the investment Government will put into DSS overhauls. Photo: Michael Pulman

This move can be seen in a couple of different ways, however. EGL (Enabling Good Lives) is a demonstration project that has been running in Christchurch and throughout the Waikato. If the system transformation works, using principles of EGL, the need for these two demonstrations no longer remains. If it doesn’t, chances are that the demonstrations will be forced to either stop, or continue minus the $1.8million batch of funding, therefore running at a loss of sorts.

Government have made it clear that any system transformation for disability support has to be cost-effective. In other words, make it work with $1.8million and offer little alternative. In the words of Sacha O’Dea from the Ministry of Health, the immediate future is that “everything stays exactly the same”.

The Minister for Disability Issues, Nicky Wagner, says that culture change within the disability support system will be significant. Within the last week, Idea Services (the operating arm of IHC) cut services that will affect 1200 users of disability support. When pressed on the matter, Wagner said that funding has increased across the disability sector.

“Idea Services will take a strength based approach and will focus on community residential and day services”, Wagner said. “In actual fact, funding for Idea Services has increased and this is absolutely in line with the increases that we have had right across the disability sector”, Wagner added.

The cabinet paper shows that an increase in funding has occurred, at a level of 4% over the course of the last ten years. That increase is spent across the Ministries of Health, Social Development, and Education; meaning a small impact at best.

So the question remains, can an overhaul that truly incorporates greater choice and control be a successful one for disabled people in New Zealand? It’s hard to imagine.

Director of Enabling Good Lives talks future direction

The Enabling Good Lives’ Waikato team who will continue in their role as the demonstration continues. Photo: EGL Waikato

Enabling Good Lives will continue in the Waikato for two more years, but that doesn’t mean the status quo will remain.

Sixty new participants will be ushered into the Waikato demonstration each year; making for a total of 120 people who will get to experience the new model of support that provides greater flexibility and choice. Currently EGL (Enabling Good Lives) has 250 participants, most of whom are already fully funded.

Christine Potts, Director of the Waikato demonstration, says she is looking forward to the future challenges.

“There is a bit of growth for us here and the focus will be refining our systems, plus we will always be working with people to ensure they are getting the outcomes they want in their lives”, Potts said.

EGL’s Waikato Leadership Group will meet and discuss where the demonstration should go over the next two years.

Last week, the Minister for Disability Issues announced a ten-year plan to overhaul how disabled people access support systems in New Zealand. The first step is a new rollout in the Mid Central of the North Island, beginning in Palmerston North. The future direction will be built upon the principles of EGL, like greater choice and flexibility for people who require support to live an ordinary life because of their disability.

Christine Potts, says that the growth of EGL in the Waikato needs to align with the overall direction of the disability supports landscape moving forward.

“I’d like to see more people benefit, but here in the Waikato we can’t continue to be working in isolation. Government is working on transformation on a wider scale”, Potts said. “The key to it is seeing how much control disabled people have going forward, and if the direction can sit with them then I think anything is possible” Potts said.

Employment was a key focus area for the EGL demonstration prior to its launch in 2015. Two years later, employment for people with disabilities remains a huge challenge for the demonstration. Just six participants in the Waikato have gained work through their connections to EGL.

Potts recognises that the demonstration lacks in that area and confirmed that Work & Income would take the lead on that front in future. Such work includes Project 300, launched by the Minister last year.

“We won’t do any more targeted work in that area because Work and Income have several different initiatives surrounding that”, Potts said.

EGL participants in the Waikato will have the chance to have their questions asked at two forums in Hamilton next week.