Disability & Politics: Where To Next For New Zealand?

The fallout of the 2017 General Election has been disastrous for New Zealand’s disability community, and it signals an incredibly difficult three years ahead.

With the departure of Green MP Mojo Mathers, disability issues are now on the verge of being taken off the political agenda altogether.

Mathers was, arguably, the loudest voice for the rights of disabled New Zealanders at a political level. 24% of the national vote had the potential to make a difference, but the question of how many disabled people actually went out and voted remains unanswered. Mathers’ departure comes as so surprise, and it all reality, this sad reading should’ve been foreseen well in advance.

What Next For Disability Issues In NZ Politics?

Nicky Wagner’s future as Minister for Disability Issues is under serious question, especially now. Wagner failed to win in her home electorate, but the worst could be yet to come. Should Winston Peters form a Government with Labour and the Greens, things could change drastically again.

But the biggest loss for Parliament, from a disability and inclusivity standpoint, is again the departure of Mathers.

In early September, the disability community was encouraged to take a different approach towards the political discussion. Experts urged a change in language, asking community leaders to identify as voters, and not disabled people. Did that happen before election day? No, because the opportunity was never there.

Again, such thinking should have been foreseen by the disability community. Politicians care about votes, especially around election time. But what was the political investment in disability issues and the wider discussion? Little, to zero.

The Conservative & Uncommitted In The Disability Community Need To Get Real

What you saw on September 23rd was a large part of the 24% not making the effort to vote. Too many disabled people think that their voice won’t make a difference. You can understand where that thinking has come from, but it’s time for many in the community to get real and face facts.

Differences can be made, but the conservative and the uncommitted are slowing the entire process down.

The process is going to be difficult enough moving forward. Some of the community’s leading advocates are already considering putting themselves into local politics, and this signals a loss in faith of the wider sector. Drastic changes need to be made to the attitudes within so many organisations that claim to be in support of people with disabilities.

It is indeed a long road ahead, but like has been the case for so long before, the sector’s fate is within its own hands.

Cabinet Paper for new Disability Support System released

The Cabinet Paper detailing high-level design for a new Disability Support System has been released by Nicky Wagner – and it makes for an interesting but not too surprising read.

Wagner, the Minister for Disability Issues, announced that changes to the DSS system were incoming earlier this year. Today, the first details of the cabinet paper have been released, and a new funding model aims to reduce assessment hurdles for disabled people.

“Disabled people will experience a real and meaningful difference with the new system. There will be a lot less red tape, more choice about the support on offer, and a range of easy ways to find information.”

The new system is set to include an information hub that provides people with various ways to make contact and be contacted. That hub will also be digital and can be accessed on smartphones and tablets. For those not wanting face-to-face contact; communication can occur via phone or email as a preference.

The new funding model will reduce assessment, therefore taking less time to implement, and is promised to give greater flexibility to users.

Personal information is managed by disabled people and their families – and the monitoring of progress will reduce compliance and works under the amount of funding each person receives.

The first roll out of the new system won’t occur until July 2018 in the MidCentral region – but that is dependant on how much progress is made during the detailed design process.

More to come.

“You’re Saying A Blind Person Can’t Use The Uber App” – Nationals’ disaster at DPA Meeting

National have come away from an important meeting with members of the disability community having failed to convince in the areas of education and housing.

The DPA (Disabled Persons Assembly) held their political forum in Wellington tonight – but some notable names from Parliament were missing.

Nicky Wagner, the Minister for Disability Issues, wasn’t able to attend the event. Her big rival representing Labour, Poto Williams, also wasn’t present.

In Wagner’s place was Alastair Scott – MP for the Wairarapa electorate. But as it turns out, Wagner may now regret such a decision after Scott’s comments shocked people in the audience and watching online.

As expected, education and housing were the two big talking points at the forum.

Viewers who tuned in to the Facebook livestream aired their frustration, particularly toward the National Party, for a lack of commitment and general understanding of the issues in both key areas.

At one point, the DPA suggested that up to 25% of New Zealand housing should be accessible – a suggestion quickly shut down by National.

Concerns were also raised at the meeting about how people with visual impairments access public transport. Members of the audience asked about taxi’s having braille to make it easier for access.

Alastair Scott, the MP representing National, argued that technology on mobile devices was a suitable replacement for braille.

“Your saying a blind person can’t use the Uber app? I’m not to sure about that, I think they can, but I’ll have to look into that.”

Scott was asked about the difficulties disabled people face accessing Supported Living Payments, organisations like Workbridge, and receiving adequate supports to life an ordinary life. Concerns were also raised about the regulation of benefits, including the Supported Living Payment.

The DPA put forward the scenario of a disabled person who wishes to move into the same house as their partner. Under the current system, if a disabled person lives with a working partner, or a partner also on the benefit, both their weekly payments are significantly impacted.

National showed little, if any empathy, to the situation that many disabled people face.

“Well, when you fall in love and get into a relationship, there are consequences.”

Stats show a decline in people with disabilities accessing benefits, resulting in poverty, but National had a different answer to the questions.

“Those with significant disabilities will come with a higher cost, and that results in the benefits you are receiving.”

New Zealand’s General Election is little over two months away.

The Disability Confident employment strategy

Less than 45% of New Zealand’s disabled population is employed, and a new campaign from the Minister for Disability Issues is again a little hit and miss.

The Disability Confident campaign aims to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities, but in order to be successful, employers must be willing to forgo some of their pre-conceived ideas about what’s “best for business”.

Nicky Wagner, the Minister for Disability Issues, says that people with disabilities represent a vast pool of talent that employers can tap into to enhance their workplace. Wagner also touched on a good point in her comments about the campaign. She said that it also gives disabled employees more confidence and economic independence.

The campaign aims to support employers to hire, and retain, disabled employees.

On the MSD website, there is more information about the Disability Confident campaign. A guide can also be found, featuring ‘how-to’s’ for employing disabled staff and a section on what hiring people with disabilities can do for a business. But, like a lot of other attempts to improve opportunities for disabled people in the workforce, this campaign relies on employers being willing to participate.

The fear that I have is that most employers won’t. Attempting to engage the mainstream workforce and the disability community has been done before. To moderate forms of success and failure.

Originally, one of the big principles of Enabling Good Lives focused on creating successful employment outcomes for people with disabilities. However, in order for participants to be eligible for that help, they first needed to be on a living support of some kind.

NZ Government should give more time to pilots like EGL

You don’t have to look very far to see examples of how the disability sector is changing to a more ‘person driven’ model.

Expectations are getting higher, and it exceeds beyond what has typically been ‘the norm’ until now. It is no longer just about ensuring that people with disabilities get their personal cares and the home cleaning done, but it is about the standard and delivery in which this is done.

Furthermore, it is about providing disabled people with the opportunity to make all decisions that impact on their lives. Continue reading NZ Government should give more time to pilots like EGL