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The Evidence Based Approach to a Fairer Society

Roger Loveless reflects on the Measuring Accessible Journeys project, MAJ, as he retires from his role as Access Coordinator.

When I initially floated the idea that the disability sector, including CCS Disability Action, needed to work within society’s accepted infrastructure asset management systems and apply them to improving access, it was met with considerable scepticism. After all we have the NZ Disability Strategy and UN Convention that enshrine access within our rights. I noted the existence of the Human Rights Commission report entitled The Accessible Journey and wondered why progress towards meeting its recommendations was so slow.

Coming from a professional engineering career, with significant experience in benefit/cost analysis I noted there was precious little information on the extent of access problems and the benefits of removing them.  Whereas the transport industry has accessibility standards for new works, it also maintains the existing infrastructure, some dating back many years when the number of people with disabilities was far less than now. Road controlling authorities maintain our transport infrastructure on limited budgets, but prioritisation has often morphed into reducing costs of accidents, forgetting that primarily they provide value to society as an enabler to allow everyone to participate. Making them safer should be a given, and reducing the costs to society of accidents, which decision makers have to do in economic terms, is laudable. But what about the benefits of removing barriers to enable the disadvantaged to participate to their full potential? How can we put these benefits in economic terms?

MAJ has several strands:

  • Identify the barriers. What are they?  Kerb cuts, steps, rough footpaths, accessible public transport, steep ramps?
  • What are the costs of removing them, and which ones should be sorted out first?
  • There will be persons with disabilities in accessible places, so let’s count them and see if the numbers match the population using those places.
  • What are the benefits of getting those persons to participate more in the community?

We then ask the question: Can the benefits be quantified in economic terms to prove the costs are worthwhile?

In simple terms, MAJ aims to make sure appropriate evidence is collected for use by decision makers within their asset management systems. No longer should inadvertent discrimination be tolerated just because we do not have the evidence decision makers can understand.

Interestingly, the transport professionals we have worked with have given considerable encouragement to our initiatives, whereas many in the disability sector remain sceptical.

Benefits could include, for example:

  • Access to employment, perhaps made possible by faster and more economic transport options.
  • Access to recreational opportunities.
  • Reduced health, benefit and support costs.
  • Respite for family, some of whom may be able to resume careers.
  • Opportunities to live more independently.

Once we start quantifying these benefits a whole range of interventions can be looked at in a new way.

  • More appropriate equipment can be supplied after assessing the barriers it allows people to overcome to fulfil their dreams.
  • Expensive drugs for individuals which have a high probability of delivering good outcomes could be prioritised.
  • Transport subsidies could be increased to enable disadvantaged people to participate on equal terms with everyone else.
  • Greater support by carers and other specialists could be justified as a part of overcoming barriers.

Our work received support from MSD’s Think Differently Campaign, which has now ended, and which enabled us to employ recognised professionals. In essence, we have shown that by using credible evidence, we can overcome inadvertent discrimination and ensure a much fairer allocation of resources for the benefit of the disability community.

The challenge for CCS Disability Action now is to ensure appropriate evidence is collected, with recognised experts giving that evidence credibility, and using that evidence to ensure fair allocation of resources for everyone.

One Response to “The Evidence Based Approach to a Fairer Society”

  1. rebecca says:

    Good Job Roger, you have initiated a very effective way of thinking. I look forward to seeing the progress that will be made by those carrying on your good work.

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