News and opinions on disability
and inclusion

David’s thoughts

CCS Disability Action Chief Executive, David Matthews

Welcome to our very first blog – our goal for providing this blog service is to connect with a wider audience of people interested in disability issues and ways to make this great country of ours more inclusive. Contributors to this blog will raise issues from their own working perspective. My perspective is built on 30 years working in education, in particular special education services, 12 years experience working in the disability sector with CCS Disability Action and a deep commitment to ensure that disabled and other “disadvantaged” people in this country have a “fair go” and that current barriers to participation for disabled people in their local communities and society are removed.

CCS Disability Action has been around for over 75 years and we intend to be around for as long as it takes to achieve a fully inclusive society. This is a huge goal and one that will not be achieved just through our own work. We have and need more allies and similar thinking individuals and organisations who are willing to speak out and take action where it is clear that disabled people and their families are being discriminated against or marginalised.

It was for this very reason that this organisation (known then as the Crippled Children’s Society) was established in 1935. Some key leaders within Rotary, led by Sir Alexander Gillies, felt that children who had contracted poliomyelitis (polio) were not getting the services and support they needed and, instead of waiting for the Government to eventually provide for this, set up this organisation. This is a great story of being “in action” to make a difference and over the years we have worked hard to keep in action on many issues.

So today, the story continues. Currently, one of our key action areas is education. It is clear that disabled children still struggle to go to their local school and our recent Family Choices research has highlighted this problem. We simply need to do better and change the “enrolment” conversation from one of resourcing and “is this the right place for your child” to one of “welcome and how can we help”.

A student at school

Once at school, it is also clear that many students with disabilities are still not getting the appropriate guidance and advice, particularly when they are getting to close to leaving school. One result is that students with disabilities stay on much longer than their non-disabled peers and they are faced with a very limited range of choices on leaving school. It is clear that people often limit their thinking about the possibilities for disabled young people in adult life. Too often we hear comments that “he or she will never be able to work” to which my response is “who really knows?” Should not the possibility of work be everyone’s right and goal. Too often the future view for disabled people is driven by the premise that this (their current life) is as good as it is going to get – my response is that this is not good enough and second best should never be good enough for anyone – disabled or not.

 A staff member in a wheelchair giving a presentation

A couple of years ago, the rules were changed to allow students under the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (Also know as ORS, this is funding to support students with very high needs) to be eligible for Ministry of Social Development funding to support their community programme on leaving school at age 18 – this provided real possibilities, but has not been taken up as quickly as was expected. It would appear that the safe option of staying at school is still the preferred one, which also means that the transition at age 21 is often to a similar, segregated day programme, thus lessening the young person’s opportunities.

So I end this piece with some important questions. Are we really doing enough for our disabled students in schools? Are they really being involved in the important life decisions about their futures? Are the perceived safety concerns of parents and others over-riding the medium to long term opportunities for these people? Are issues of school rolls and holding onto precious special education resources, influencing teachers’ perspectives on this issue?

If this is the case then what can be done about any of this to lessen these real concerns? So what do you think?

David Matthews

Chief Executive