Time for a new access law3 min read

19/9/17 3 min read


Time for a new access law3 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Nick Svensen, our Policy Analyst, is back to let us know about an exciting campaign to get a new access law.

If you haven’t yet heard, accessibility legislation ensuring national standards of accessibility is currently being advocated for by the Access Alliance, of which CCS Disability Action is a member. The proposed Accessibility for New Zealanders Act will require organisations in all areas of life to become fully accessible to people with a wide variety of disabilities.

Based on principles of universal design and reasonable accommodation, the Act legally obliges parties such as schools, the government itself, workplaces, and shops to remove existing obstacles and prevents the creation of new barriers to accessibility. These include but are not limited to physical, communication, attitudinal, technological, transport, visual, and legal barriers, and affect 1 in every 4 of those kiwis with disabilities in ways both obvious and invisible, whether exclusion from a restaurant or from the workforce for examples. As the population ages, cities and towns grow and technologies change, it makes increasingly more sense to legislate for national accessibility standards to make sure we do the right job, at the right time, avoiding retrospective action or even worse – continued exclusion in public life.

Canadian Lawyer David Lepofsky, who has long been at the forefront of advocating for the enactment of accessibility legislation in Ontario and Canada, has just been in New Zealand sharing his experiences and insights on why legislation is not the blunt tool the current government have described it as. Here is a compelling interview with him and Alliance spokesperson Amy Hogan on Radio New Zealand, worth a listen. Seeing public awareness and individual altruism as useful but incomplete tools to achieve universal accessibility, David makes the case that legislation is simply more efficient. Legislation doesn’t have to take away organic efforts towards furthering accessibility or stop the cultural change also required to make a society fully accessible. Rather, enforceable law can support and speed up the cultural and physical transformation by making accessibility the norm, forcing the hand of some but also giving the know-how and means to others.

Ensuring access is a first thought, not a second, means organisations don’t have to ‘reinvent the disability wheel’ one at a time, as David put it. Access doesn’t need to come at the expense of aesthetics, but making it a precondition makes social and financial sense. Having an explicit instruction based on commonly agreed upon and well considered research on how to cater for various abilities, is useful for both parties. As well as being more efficient, it is arguably more reliable and effective, as while many organisations have realised the importance of accessibility, I’ve come across enough well intended but misplaced elevator buttons to know good intentions don’t always translate to good outcomes.

As well as the initial benefit of access for its own sake, ensuring people of all ages and abilities can use public and private services has less obvious but equally important flow on effects, many of which are interrelated. For example, accessible public transport is only useful if accompanied by a braille menu at the restaurant people are travelling to, screen readers at the job they’re commuting to, or elevators at the museum they’re visiting. The holistic approach needed to tackle access and inclusion barriers will be helped by universal accessible legislation, adding to the efforts of many who have already realised the financial benefits and humane importance of access to their shop or cafe.

So far only the Māori Party, Greens and Labour have openly committed to enacting the Act. With the election only a few days away, we may soon be one step closer to joining a growing number of countries who have legislated for minimum accessibility standards, although this will take continued public interest and government leadership. A UMR poll recently found 80% of New Zealanders to be in favour of accessibility legislation. It would be a great time for such a large majority to make their voices heard, especially considering politicians are probably listening now more so than ever.