News and opinions on disability
and inclusion

Disabled people need to be included in decisions about accessibility

David Matthews returns to talk about the lack of consultation with accessibility experts on the proposed earthquake strengthening changes. David also talked about this in the NZ Herald and we did a detailed submission.

As a little aside, ever wondered why “government” sometimes has a capital letter. The Government with a capital G refers to the government of the day (eg. the current National-led Government) and government with a small g refers to government in a general sense. See this handy Canadian page for more info, if you are interested.  

Recently, the Government consulted on a proposal to remove accessibility requirements for building owners doing earthquake strengthening. This proposal was based on a recommendation from the Canterbury Earthquake Royal Commission.

We were really disappointed in this proposal, not just because it showed a real lack of awareness of modern accessibility practices and theory, but also because no accessibility experts were consulted. Alongside other organisations, we have pushed for accessibility experts to be included in decisions about buildings and transport. The excellent Audit Roger, Gerri and Taylored Accessibility Solutions did for Waipa District Council really shows what can happen when the government and the disability community works together; everyone benefits.

Even though the Government is only proposing the change at this stage, the fact that it was even considered as appropriate is a step backwards for accessibility. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Disability Strategy and the current Disability Action Plan all emphasise the importance of improving accessibility. The government has agreed with or ratified all these documents. I thought we were past the point of the government making important decisions about disabled people without involving them in developing those decisions.

It is true that the disability community could comment on the already developed proposal, along with everyone else, during the recent consultation. This is simply not good enough. Article 4, part 3 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities clearly states that governments must closely consult with and actively involve disabled people in the development of policy.

The Royal Commission consulted with building owners and heritage experts. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has a reference group on the proposal that includes heritage experts. Why did neither consult accessibility experts on an issue that is directly to do with accessibility?

There is still time to address the issue. If the Government goes ahead with the change, it must go through Parliament. I am more worried about the way the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Minister has approached accessibility. There needs to be greater awareness of the importance of accessibility. The Government’s wider objectives in welfare reform and employment rely on improved accessibility. If the Government is going to downplay accessibility, it can forget about significant increases in the number of disabled people working.

It is time we saw some actions to go with the government’s continued promises on improving accessibility.