Nick Svensen is a policy advisor intern at CCS Disability Action.
For many in the disability community, the inability to obtain a driver’s licence leaves them unable to prove their age or identity in a wide array of situations – perhaps something so obvious that it is easily overlooked. As a result, they are forced to look elsewhere for alternate and frankly inferior forms of identification, often at personal expense and time. As drivers licences are the most used and recognised forms of ID, those without them face actual and self-perceived barriers to participating in the community and going about their business discreetly. The problem is compounded by the reliance that many people with disabilities have on services that require formal identification, and denial (justified or not) often results in embarrassment and discrimination, if not heated arguments.
We asked people around our organisation about problems they had encountered with ID. They kindly told us their stories. These ranged from being denied at hospitals and banks to not being able to buy alcohol or sign for courier packages. It is important that we view these problems with equal relevance, as mobility and accessibility within a community is about the big things as well as the small.
Making use of the identification options available to non-drivers today involves a patchwork of second-best options, which may or may not be accepted on the day. In my opinion, this element of uncertainty and unpredictability poses the biggest problem practically and ideologically – you simply cannot have confidence in what is supposedly a black and white situation of confirming age or identity. The government run website RealMe offers an online proof of identification for several services like banks and Work and Income. While useful, this still leaves large uncertainty for those without drivers licences, and clearly only solves half of the problem.
As far as physical proof of identification goes, the available alternatives for primary ID are to obtain and carry either a firearms licence, HANZ 18+ card, Birth Certificate or Passport. One can apply for a firearms licence through the police, but this is not an easy process and is clearly not the designed purpose. The fact that this is arguably the next best option highlights the ridiculousness of it all. Passports are a common plan B, but the cost of renewal and the in-depth application process means this cannot be relied on either. Also, one would have to either carry the passport at all times and risk losing it, or only use it for planned occasions and thus would frequently be left without. Birth Certificates are reasonably priced and attainable, however are clearly not a sufficiently portable or subtle form of ID.
This leaves the HANZ 18+ card, as perhaps the best current alternative, as it is affordable and reasonably well recognised. Having said this, some people reported being wrongly refused by unknowing shopkeepers. Although less than ideal, if we are to make do with what we have, better education and information to the public and to those in the service industry would help to make 18+ cards more reliable and widely accepted. In addition, improved assistance with the application would help to make sure those who require an alternate ID can actually get one. Another problem is that getting an 18+ card depends upon having another form of ID listed above, making it a self-reinforcing and daunting process likely to be avoided. Finally and obviously, you must be 18 years old to have one, leaving teenagers in the lurch too.
Other than working with the current system of patchwork and loopholes, ideally New Zealand would follow in the footsteps of other countries and create a universal form of identification that does not require driving or any of the other barriers mentioned above. Australia (Keypass Card) and America (Non-Drivers Identification Card, Permanent Resident Card, US Passport Card, State Identification Card), have sought to overcome the problem of ID for non-drivers by having exactly this. In the states, Non-Driver ID’s are issued from the same office as Drivers Licences, at the same price and are identical but for a small note saying ‘non-driver’. This would be the most equal outcome, as it leaves no distinction between drivers and non-drivers, avoiding any uncertainty for parties on both side of the transaction. More specifically and therefore less universally, the problem has been solved for the disabled community in the form of a National Disabled Identification Cards in the UK and a Disabled Status Identification Card in Canada.
It is clear that for reasons both practical and symbolic, New Zealand needs to expand the options for identification to sufficiently accommodate non-drivers, including those in the disability community. Better yet, we would do well to follow suit and use this current void in the system as an opportunity to create something positive and, most importantly, useful!