30 Jun 2020

Society is failing disabled people and can do better - Chief Ombudsman

9:35 pm on 30 June 2020

The Chief Ombudsman says a quantum leap is needed to achieve equal rights for people with disabilities.

New Zealand has failed disabled children and their families, the Disability Commissioner says.

New Zealand has failed disabled children and their families, the Disability Commissioner says. Photo: 123rf

A joint report from an independent monitoring group, which includes the Office of the Ombudsman, says immediate action is needed to improve equality in education, housing and address seclusion and the use of restraint, and calls for stronger laws to protect the rights of people living with disabilities.

Speaking at the launch on Tuesday, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said the report was "a hugely important blueprint for getting our house in order".

"It's our job as leaders to give the disability community the right to live as equal citizens, and we will help to do that by our influence."

Watch the report launch here:

Boshier said accessibility should consider how to help all people live as equal citizens.

"I think what Covid-19 has taught us, and what this report tries to highlight, is that accessibility isn't just a matter of wheelchair ramps and accessible toilets.

"It's a much greater thing about [things like] when we are producing information, and a roadmap for people, can it be seen by all people? And that's a cultural change that we need to undertake if we're really going to give equality to people with disabilities."

Ombudsman Peter Boshier

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier. Photo: RNZ / Phil Smith

The report is from the Independent Monitoring Mechanism (IMM), made up of the Human Rights Commission, the Ombudsman and the Disabled People's coalition, and states immediate action is needed on education, seclusion and limiting the use of restraint.

More than a million New Zealanders - or about a quarter - live with a disability, the most recent New Zealand Disability survey concluded, in 2013.

Representatives from across the disability sector have recently criticised a national review of New Zealand's health system, calling for a separate ministry to be set up for those living with disabilities.

The IMM report released today notes that disabled people remain far from enjoying the full range of human rights and fundamental freedoms included in the Disability Convention. Many are experiencing poverty, exclusion and a lack of autonomy.

It also highlights the experience of disabled Māori and Pacific people.

New laws are needed to ensure newly built houses meet universal design standards to improve accessibility, the report says. The proposed improvements would have a major positive impact on disabled people's lives.

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero.

Disability Rights Commissioner and former paralympian Paula Tesoriero. Photo: Supplied.

New Zealand's education system has badly let down children with disabilities and their families, Disability Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said at the launch.

"Despite decades of reviews, New Zealand has failed disabled children by not providing a truly enforceable right to an inclusive education."

She said education was the foundation for our ability to know and exercise basic rights.

"The impact of this will stay with us for decades in lost social connection, lost employment opportunities, a lost standard of living and too often - when children not served well by education they get caught up in the justice system."

Recent data shows employment rates for people with disabilities are about half that of the rest of the population, in every age group.

Recent data shows employment rates for people with disabilities are about half that of the rest of the population, in every age group. Photo: Statistics NZ

Tesoriero said a group of young disabled people told her their experience of lockdown.

"They said 'y'know lockdown: it's been great ... because in our homes it's accessible. When lockdown ends, we have to go out into this big inaccessible world, and we have to face the judgement and the stares and the culture and the inaccessible world that we live in'.

"We all collectively have to change that reality for disabled people."

For seclusion and restraint, the report recommends strengthening the commitment to limiting the use of restraint on people with disabilities, and rapidly reducing and eliminating seclusion in secure health and disability facilities, through strong, achievable and timely policies.

These key themes indicate a wider disparity between disabled people and their non-disabled peers. The report notes that improvements in these areas will have significant positive effects on disabled people's lives.

The report was put together after the IMM conducted a nationwide survey of disabled people and their supporters, and held public hui.

The survey was available online, in a range of accessible formats and languages, including te reo Māori, New Zealand Sign Language, Easy Read and Braille.

The group expects the response from the government to recognise the unique needs of marginalised groups, including disabled Māori and Pacific peoples.

The IMM will publish a separate report on the experiences of disabled people during lockdown later this year.

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