Get it in the big book of laws already!

By Josh Davies

Young comedian, Josh Davies, attended the Access Matters forum to hear each of NZ's political party's ideas on accessibility in the lead up to the election. How do their policies affect him as a young, visually impaired Kiwi?

Over the weekend, the Access Alliance hosted ‘My Voice Matters’ - a debate about the state of accessibility in New Zealand. Initially planned as a live event at Blind Low Vision NZ’s office in Auckland, but because of the pandemic that keeps on pandemic-ing, we were in lockdown and the event was held over Zoom; a wonderful benefit in that the hosts could just mute the MPs when they went on too long - a system I think should be implemented in parliament.

Five MP’s took part, including Labour’s Carmel Sepuloni, Green’s Golriz Ghahraman, National’s Alfred Ngaro, Jenny Marecroft from NZ First and ACT’s David Seymour - who I assume was only there because they didn’t realise he was in the room when they were setting up, then felt like they had to include him because, well, all voices matter.

Weirdly, all the MPs were pro disability, not one of them taking the much more risky anti accessibility stance.

One of the clear KPI’s is to have at least six bullet points in every action plan… especially in the ‘developing more action plans’ action plan.

The debate covered 6 key topics of discussion education, employment, transport, housing accessibility law, and the health and disability review. The inclusion of disabled voices was a big part of this discussion, and all MPs acknowledge that moving forward that is how it should be done. Not just in a tokenistic box ticking way, but with a meaningful impact on how future legislations are crafted. 

Education made for a good starting point, each MP getting the chance to voice their party’s stance on it; shocker, they’re all pro education. Each MP talked at length about the importance of schooling and about putting more funding into things like teacher aides, as well as physical accessibility like ramps in schools. Which if followed through on is great - BUT - to me it rang very hollow. My mum is a teacher aide and has been for many years, so I have seen all too well the complete lack of resources teacher aides are given compared to the work they are asked to do. 

I did find Minister Ghahraman interesting though, when talking about the Greens policy to train teachers how to work with kids of diverse needs. Equipping teachers with the skills to provide every child with a proper education whether they are able bodied, blind, or a naughty little so and so. 

Labour put forward their learning support action plan and its six core values. There were six more key key values when she talked about another action plan, which leads me to believe one of the clear KPI’s in the beehive is to have at least six bullet points in every action plan…. especially in the ‘developing more action plans’ action plan. 

Views on employment were pretty vague and non-committal on what each party would do to improve the current low employment rate of 23% for people with disabilities. The Greens would like to explore the idea of implanting quotas and affirmative action to boost the employment of marginalised people. Everyone else however, seemed very resistant to such an idea without providing another solution and instead opting for the “we need to change society's perception of people with disabilities” - a great end goal, if not for the fact there’s little substance to how they actually intend to achieve that.

There was irony all around the debate’s move to the topic of public transport - we were so on schedule, I think it was a direct insult on Auckland buses...

When host, Amy Hogan, moved the discussion onto accommodation, she highlighted the alarming fact that the majority of people with disabilities live in rental accommodation. National and NZ First talked about getting rid of the Resource Management Act and updating universal design standards for new builds to make them accessible, as well as the high costs of retrofitting for accessibility. 

Nobody had any real solution to the immediate problem of there currently being very little accessible housing and how they would fix it. An understandable issue given infrastructure in this country isn’t great in general, so there is much more to fix than just accessibility. David Seymour reminded people he was still on the call by voicing his hot take on disability housing issues; that hot take being there needs to be fewer rules around building homes.

An audience member asked a really good question, “How does leaving it up to private enterprise help? What will incentivise private businesses to build accessible homes?” Labour said to expand the rules. National said there should be rules, just not Labour’s rules. NZ First said to implement a universal build standard that includes accessibility measures.

Short version you can't trust private business and you need rules.   

There was irony all around the debate’s move to the topic of public transport - we were so on schedule, I think it was a direct insult on Auckland buses...

I think we all agree public transport is terrible. It’s slow, crowded, unreliable, and worst of all when strangers sit next to you, you hope they get off before you to save that awkward “uh this is my stop” moment and hope they get up. Is the awareness of personal space the one good thing to come from Covid? 

In typical Green form, Minister Ghahraman sang the praises of public transport just because it is “good for the planet.” She, along with National, talked about the importance of making public transport accessible with tactile displays and audio, which GOD YES I need audio stops on buses already please. Everyone also talked about making streets more accessible and taking better care in maintaining them. 

I have tripped on plenty of wonky footpaths while not paying enough attention so I love the idea but given it has been a problem for many years I doubt the follow through. 

The topic of accessibility law was an easy one for all on the panel. All parties were in favour of expanding accessibility law and all showed support for the Accessibility act, which The Access Alliance played a major role in developing. This is great, it is a piece of legislation actively worked on by those who it will actually affect, plus it has broad political support. Let’s get it in the big book of laws already. 

Same with the health and disability review, everyone acknowledged its flaws and promised to work on it in the future, while also taking the chance to get their digs in at Labour for not having a disability perspective in the health and disability review - an own goal on Labours part really.

As an onlooker, I found the debate really useful. All the candidates seem to have similarly progressive values when it comes to disability, they all seem to want the same outcome, they just disagree on how we get there; fantastic for future ‘us’, harder for those of us living in the now. 

Given how nonpartisan disability is, it is really pleasant to see there is a common goal, And oh boy do I hope that it manifests itself in actual change. 

So in a nutshell:

Labour talked about all they’d done for the disability community.

National made lofty, if vague promises.

The Greens had legitimate thought out policies.

NZ First love the elderly.

ACT… was there?