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Systematic shift needs to target attitudes toward disabled people

Mike Pulman is a regular public speaker for various organisations in the disability sector. Mike is also a part time sports reporter for the All Blacks, Chiefs Rugby, and the Blackcaps cricket team. When not busy writing, Mike hosts a weekly talkback radio show. He was the winner of 2016’s Youth with Disability award.

I believe that the principles behind Enabling Good Lives are designed to shift attitudes, within the disability sector just as much as out of it.

If you look at the sector as a whole, think about all the different service providers, support initiatives, group organisations, and lobbying networks. On a Radio New Zealand programme this week, I heard the following phrase:

“Real change can happen because it’s the people who are closest to the issues that can provide insight and help change happen locally”.

Oh, those two words, “real change”. I myself have used those on many occasions in things I’ve either written or said, because that phrase mentioned above is so true. In a lot of cases, it’s the people closest to the issues that can provide the real insight needed to create change. People who are disabled, their families, and those who work alongside them each and every day; those who see the struggles faced.

If only the powers that be, like some in Government and certain “sector leaders”, saw it that way. The system, in its current and previous state, is so extremely complicated. There is too much provision in too many areas, and yet, for as much as is available in terms of supports through different outlets, are any of them really achieving outcomes that empower leaders in our sector?

In 2017, disabled people and their families are finding themselves with the opportunity to have more choice and control over the supports they receive. But it’s not just about that, it’s what their lives look like outside of that support as well. Giving disabled people the ability to be leaders of their own lives is the systematic change that demonstrations like Enabling Good Lives aim for, but it hasn’t come easy, and it’s still something of an uncertainty.

Disabled people having the necessary support, be that for personal cares, home help, or getting out into the community, is one thing, but the picture is so much bigger than that.

Well-meaning service providers and group organisations have aimed to provide services that take care of disabled people. They don’t exactly strive to invest in them, or enable them. Their primary goal is to put measures in place that take care of disabled people, and also their own interests too. That interest is continuation from year to year. All this is done on a very limited, yearly budget, and with the decline in donations due to a tough financial market for everyone, things aren’t getting any easier anytime soon.

Goals are changing within the disability sector; but with all the “choice and control” initiatives that we are seeing, is the financial investment from Government any more than it was before? I’d argue not, but I’m not aware of the actual dollar value that’s been put behind the likes of Project 300 and Employability, campaigns that the Minister for Disability Issues Nicky Wagner strongly believes in.

Project 300 helped 584 people find jobs over a 12-month period, that’s great for them. What about the rest? 584 people is actually rather low when you look at the figures, but once again, it’s better than nothing.

A lot of disabled struggle to find employment, and on top of that, many face barriers to an equal education that provides the foundation to getting decent opportunities in the workforce. Advocacy is key in this area; service provision won’t change attitudes but it does play its role, and it can be a big game changer depending on the individual and their circumstances.

But a handful of game changing, positive outcomes is not justification to over celebrate. We don’t even know the exact number of disabled people in New Zealand, so how can we say what the exact issue is in the society we so desperately want to see change its attitudes towards the disabled people. First, we need to change our own.

4 Responses to “Systematic shift needs to target attitudes toward disabled people”

  1. Auriole Ruka says:

    Real Change! This summarises our tendency to over celebrate because its better than nothing.

    Some key messages here thank you Mike.

    Auriole Ruka

    • Mike Pulman says:

      Thanks for the comment Auriole!

      Isn’t that just the truth. “Real Change” will mean different things to different people of course. Hopefully advocacy, discussion, and idea gathering can lead to some great things for CCSDA.

  2. Maurice Priestley says:

    Part of the problem is that when the Government, or support services for that matter, do attempt to engage with people to listen to and gain their insight into making things better, they have difficulty synthesising that insight into policy and subsequent implementation.

    • Mike Pulman says:

      That’s an interesting argument. Perhaps if more time, and frankly the interest, to make the change happen in terms of policy would be made all the much more “easy” was if the sector listened to the voices of its own people, discussed openly and honestly, and then put forward one to three areas of improvement to their local MP’s. I agree with you, turning ideas and views into policy is difficult, but not impossible. Don’t even get me started on implementation!

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