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Disability advocates call for stronger accessibility laws

William Sangster

The Beehive has been given a clear message from the disabilities community - we deserve change.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

More than 100 people, including those with disabilities and supporters, have marched to Parliament to deliver a petition calling for better accessibility legislation.

The Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill came into force in August 2022.

It aims to ensure disabled people and their families’ needs and allow for opportunities to achieve their goals and aspirations.

Disability advocate and Access Matters Aotearoa campaigner, Juliana Carvalho, lives with lupus and uses a wheelchair.

‘It gets hard out there’

“We deserve better. We are more than 1.1 million. Lack of accessibility is a matter that has a tremendous impact on the lives of the majority of New Zealanders.

“Of course, the most impacted are us - people with disabilities. But our families and friends [and] colleagues are also impacted.”

Carvalho, 42, helped to organise the march. She said there is a critical gap in all socio-economic outcomes between people with disabilities and those without impairments.

“We are in 2024 and New Zealand still doesn’t have legislation that guarantees accessibility to all areas of life and, therefore, the basic human rights for disabled people.”

Some in the community face barriers in education, communication and information, employment and physical barriers on public transport and at everyday buildings.

‘We are taking another look at it’ - Minister for Disability Issues

March co-host and president of Hearing New Zealand, Dr Lisa Seerup, said she was fighting for accessibility.

“This is why we need to band together. To share and learn from each other and support each other. It gets hard out there and disabilities can get exhausting.

“Never underestimate the energy it takes.”

She said the group is having meetings with the Government, so considered it a “good win” for them.

“We decided to have the march after we saw so many other programmes being cut or scrapped. We felt we needed to be seen. We will continue to be seen at Parliament.”

“Write to our ministers and work and provide support to them and for them to establish good accessible legislation.”

Penny Simmonds, Minister of Disability Issues, said she welcomed the march and attended, spoke and accepted the petition.

Simmonds said the Government heard the strong voices of disability advocacy groups, during the earlier select committee process, who felt the Bill was not fit for purpose.

“We have committed to pausing the legislative process on the Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill and we are taking another look at it.”

She said Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People - will carry out an analysis looking at other accessible legislation in overseas jurisdictions such as Canada, the US and Australia.

“I continue to meet with disability advocates in my capacity as Minister. We are looking forward to further consultation with the sector.”

Hero Image: Disability groups delivering the petition for better accessibility legislations to Parliament. Photo/ Juliana Carvalho

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