4 Nov 2021

Ministry for disabled has a big job to do

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 4 November 2021
Jonathan Mosen, chief executive of Workbridge

Jonathan Mosen, chief executive of Workbridge Photo: Supplied

Name a disabled politician, broadcaster or chief executive.

It's difficult because either they don't exist or there are very few on them.

"Disabled people are incredibly marginalised and invisible in New Zealand society," says Jonathan Mosen, chief executive of Workbridge, the job agency for people with a disability or health condition.

Mosen is blind and has a progressive hearing loss.

"We're not really represented very much, if at all, in what I call the key institutions of change."

It's no surprise, he says, that when it comes to issues of pay equity and unemployment, disabled people are not thought about because "we're not around the table".

Today, The Detail looks at the announcement of the new Ministry for Disabled People and the huge task of tackling the many inequities affecting up to one in four New Zealanders - more than one million people.

Disability activists who have been calling for that ministry for decades say it is critical that it will be run by disabled people, including the role of the chief executive.

"Whoever sets that vision is going to have a really difficult job because there are so many things that need to get done," Mosen says.

He describes the "disabling society" we live in, what it is like as a blind person walking around, the lack of braille on buildings and sitting on a bus that does not announce the next stop.

But he also explains how the "rampant use of ablest language" reinforces negative stereotypes about disabled people.

The everyday use of phrases such as "falling on deaf ears" or being "blind to a subject" have degrading connotations that influence the way people respond to disability, including potential employers.

Mosen says it partly explains New Zealand's "disability employment crisis", from high unemployment to a wide pay gap.

Statistics New Zealand figures for the June quarter this year (the last time the disabled sector was measured) show that only 42.5 percent of working age disabled people have jobs, compared with 79 percent of non-disabled working age people.

The number of disabled people without work has risen during Covid-19 to nearly 10 percent, more than double the rate of non-disabled at four percent.

The median weekly income for disabled people is $114 less than for non-disabled workers.

A 2018 snapshot of life for disabled New Zealanders by Stats New Zealand shows that in social life, 37 percent experienced discrimination in the last 12 months compared with 19 percent of non-disabled people.

In their home life, one in 10 rated their housing as unsuitable compared with one in 25 for non-disabled.

Disabled people find access more difficult for doctor visits (11 percent disabled, 3.6 percent disabled), supermarket trips (6.6 percent, 2.1 percent) and outings to the park (4.5 percent, 0.8 percent).

Mosen tells The Detail the priority for the new ministry is to make sure people understand that disability is not a medical issue, nor a welfare issue.

"There comes a time when we have to stop being the people that things are done to and for," he says.


PIJF Photo: .