Deaf and Disabled workers call for accessibility and equality

Today is the International Day of People with Disabilities. Almost one in four New Zealanders have a disability, and the Public Service Association says more must be done to enable Disabled people to lead good lives.

The PSA’s Deaf and Disabled Network wants to see consistent accessibility standards implemented across the public service for both staff and clients.

The Network argues employers and the government should commit to a shared goal of making all New Zealand workplaces accessible to all New Zealanders.

“Many disabilities are invisible, but as Disabled New Zealanders and trade union members we refuse to be treated like we’re invisible people. We want to see the barriers that keep Disabled people out of jobs and civic activities torn down,” says Glenn Walker, spokesperson for the PSA Deaf & Disabled Network.

“Disabled people have knowledge and skills we can use to help build systems that actually work for us, enabling us to be active members of our communities and workplaces. A great start would be for the health system to hire more Deaf and Disabled people. Nothing about us, without us.”

The median income for Disabled people is about $400 a week, compared with $900 for the non-disabled, and Disabled people are less than half as likely to be employed in the first place.

Most New Zealand homes are not built to be accessible, and inaccessible workplaces make it difficult for many New Zealanders to pursue employment options or access government services.

“When building homes or setting up workplaces, it’s more cost effective to get accessibility right from day one than it is to try and fix it later,” says Mr Walker.

“Disabilities don’t always hold people back, but badly designed cities and offices definitely do.”

The PSA supports calls to strengthen accessibility requirements in the Building Code, and encourages agencies like Kāinga Ora to pursue ambitious goals for the provision of accessible public and community housing.

The PSA’s Deaf and Disabled Network currently has over 800 members, and the union argues this number would likely increase if disabled people faced less stigma.

“The PSA is the union for disability support workers, and we also represent Disabled public servants. Our members are seriously concerned about the lack of adequate funding for support services and the lack of accessibility in New Zealand society,” says PSA National Secretary Kerry Davies.

“New Zealand ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. If we intend to live up to that commitment we must ensure Disabled people have sufficiently resourced systems to support them, staffed by workers who receive fair pay, secure hours and proper training.”

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