News and opinions on disability
and inclusion

What’s happening to my dream!

Policy and Information leader, Jonathan Tautari is back to talk about disability, civil rights and dreams denied.

Today marks 50 years since the historical March on Washington where Dr Martin Luther King gave his ““I Have a Dream” speech. The speech was a challenge to the politics of exclusion and segregation.

A key part of segregation was banning African-Americans from accessing certain facilities, services, and opportunities. African-Americans could not visit certain shops, live in certain houses, go to certain schools and work in certain jobs.

No colored allowedUnfortunately, the politics of exclusion and segregation live on for a different group of people, people with disabilities. People with access needs cannot visit certain shops, work in certain workplaces or live in certain houses because they are not accessible. Disabled children are sometimes encouraged to use separate classes and schools.

The segregation of disabled people may be based on different ideas than the segregation of African-Americans, but the practical effects are the same. Disabled people are simply stopped from accessing many parts of society.
 
Recently, an opportunity came up for the Government and wider society to finally eliminate a key area of exclusion and segregation, but it appears the politics of exclusion and segregation are alive and well.

The Government in late 2012 announced a proposal to require 15,000 to 25,000 large buildings to be earthquake strengthened. The buildings included were shops, workplaces and large residential buildings. These are the places where we shop, work and increasingly live.

Under the 2004 Building Act, whenever a large building is upgraded, it must also upgrade its accessibility access, if it has not done so already. So the Government’s proposal should have meant that over the next fifteen years (now twenty) 15,000 to 25,000 large buildings would all be brought up to standard and be accessible to all. This would give people with access needs the same opportunities and rights as everyone else to shop, work and live in these large buildings.

Boldly go

Not everyone was happy with this significant reduction in segregation, however. The Canterbury Earthquake Royal Commission after listening carefully to building owners, but not talking to any disabled people or accessibility experts, told the Government to remove the requirement to upgrade accessibility access when earthquake strengthening. The Commission believed the cost of the accessibility requirements may put some building owners off earthquake strengthening. The Commission was recommending that access for one of the most marginalised groups in society be sacrificed because the extra cost could be a bit of a burden on some building owners.  

The Government opened up the Commission’s proposal for comment. The Commission’s proposal found support amongst the majority of employers, engineers and building owners, who submitted, as well as support from some councils. It appears that dismantling segregation is just too costly.

The Minister for Building and Construction, Maurice Williamson, agrees and the Government is planning to amend the Building Act to remove the accessibility requirements for earthquake strengthening soon. No access

It looks like in twenty years’ time, some large buildings will still be no go zones for people with access needs, segregation will endure. What would Dr Martin Luther King think about all this; are dreams only allowed if they do not cost too much?

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