Who’s Really Representing Disability in Parliament?

Ministers responsible for representing disability rights are having a tough go of it down in Parliament. Why aren’t more disabled people leading the conversation? 

The question of representation at a political level has long been a talking point amongst the disability sector, often one of frustration. There is a very strong belief that in order to achieve more politically, more people who actually have a disability need to be the ones doing it.

Many national organisations and community groups have disabled people in key decision-making roles already. The United Nations also have disabled-people in charge of the conversation for that specific area.

It just makes sense right, surely that lived experience and first-hand learning counts for something? It’s not just about being able to identify as someone with a disability, either. One of the biggest gripes advocates have is how the issues impacting people in the community are so often spoken for by the non-disabled, without any understanding of the real-world impacts of what is involved.

Comments by the Associate Minister of Health in response to yet more reports of funding freezes for Disability Support Services are a good example.

As concerns over continued funding cuts are raised, to hear Julie Anne Genter basically palm them off as nothing more than operational matters would do doubt have insulted many disabled people and families being impacted by what the Ministry of Health is doing.

Ok, ensuring gender pay equity and meeting demand may be seen as simple operating matters, but surely Genter can’t be convinced that adding an additional $72m for these areas alone equals results that deliver greater choice and control for how disabled people get the supports they require to simply live life?

If so, then who is giving her such advice? The non-disabled? Remember, we are talking about 24% of New Zealand’s total population.

That’s no small amount of people, imagine what the number could be had more disabled people been able to participate in the census. Imagine what the results would be had a more regular disability survey been initiated by the Government. What about the extra un-accounted extra 25% of people requiring disability support suddenly coming out of the woodwork?

Carmel Sepuloni, the Minister for Disability Issues and Social Development, gets the best grade rating from those inside Parliament. Her comments on a recent podcast where she said adding more value to the disability workforce shouldn’t, in anyway, undermine disabled people’s right to accessing quality services weren’t only obvious, but one of the more real things a minister has said about this sector in some time.

Meanwhile on the education front, Tracey Martin admitted back in April that despite significant funding boosts, early intervention for disabled learners in education had fallen short.

Who’s Really Representing Disability in Parliament?

The general school of thought hasn’t changed much over the years when it comes to who is ultimately responsible for making the changes needed to better the participation, rights, and lives of disabled people in New Zealand.

The buck stops with Government and it’s their responsibility to make it happen and stop discriminating, right?

This is just as much an awareness issue as it is one of the Ministers involved having the ability to pull the right levers at the right time to get a result that is halfway decent.

Those Ministers aren’t only not disabled, but they grew up in a society that didn’t place emphasis on those forgotten in marginalized communities.

The point being is that shifting attitudes in society goes well beyond what the Ministers are doing in Parliament, but they can be, in a big way, very effective leaders of that conversation. That current track record goes to show that there is a lot of room for doing things differently, starting with a more deliberate and frequent conversation about disability matters.

Like how Government targeted mental illness with the wellbeing budget of 2019, how do they get disability issues to be a big talking point in 2020? It is an election year so the community should expect a bit more and will do doubt get something to talk about from ministers.

Just what exactly? Well, it may just time in with evaluations and decisions on the future of Mana Whaikaha (Enabling Good Lives) quite nicely with an eye toward announcements in early 2021. That’s not exactly a vote-shifter though.

But nevertheless, go to any disability gathering of note that seeks to ask the hard questions of Government officials, usually it’s those very officials dictating the terms of conversation.

That’s what needs to change, pronto.

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.