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Election 2023: Pasifika disability advocates call for improved services and inclusion

William Sangster

'It doesn't matter which government it is. Not enough has been done'

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

A Pacific disabled support worker is calling for a better understanding of the needs of all Pacific people with disabilities, no matter who gets into government tomorrow.

Matt Ngametua has mild cerebral palsy, hemiplegia and diplegia, which affects his mobility.

The 42-year-old, who has roots in Atiu and Mangaia in the Cook Islands, says he believes the Pasifika disabled community is not being heard enough and hopes for improved needs for the disability community by voting this year.

“It doesn’t matter which government it is. Not enough has been done in theory and in action at this point. Like always, a percentage of the [disabled] community is left behind because they don’t get it or lack understanding,” he says.

“I just want to be heard and understood - that’s all.”

Ngametua is a teacher aide at the Blind and Low Vision Education Network NZ school for the blind based in Homai, Manurewa, South Auckland.

‘We need to keep them motivated so there’s a reason to be here’

His proudest achievement has been working as a support person in the disability sector, he says.

“We need to keep [disabled people] motivated so that there’s a reason to be here. We’re here to open people’s eyes just to achieve and move forward.”

Ngametua has competed in powerlifting in the CrossFit games (adaptive division) and Disability Sport Auckland (wheelchair rugby league). He also volunteers at the Halberg Games.

Matt Ngametua says the Pacific disabled community is not heard enough. Photo / Supplied

A recent survey by Growing Up New Zealand found 14.5 per cent of Pacific young people have a disability.

The policies for the disabled community are as follows: One party has fourteen policies, four have one and the remaining parties have none.

“It’s important to have your say on what’s important to you. For me, it’s accessible housing and having access to that.”

Ngametua, who has mobility issues, is looking for an accessible home and is confused about the criteria.

Already living in a state house with his family and needing space, Ngametua applied for social housing - but was denied because he makes too much money.

Fighting for the rights of the disabled community

He acknowledges being disappointed with the system.

“The whole system is a’s not inclusive at all.”

Kramer Hoeflich is an advocate for disabled people's rights. Photo / Supplied

Vaka Tautua Services Lead Kramer Hoeflich, 30, says the election is an opportunity for the disabilities community to be more effectively supported in several ways.

“First and foremost, candidates and political parties should prioritise disability-inclusive policies and advocate for the rights and well-being of individuals with disabilities.”

This includes addressing issues like accessibility, healthcare, education and employment opportunities.

At 15 years old, he experienced a spinal cord injury that resulted in paralysis.

Hoeflich, who is also from the Cook Islands (Arorangi), believes that as a Pacific person with a disability, there are key areas that can be improved.

“There’s a need for greater awareness and understanding within both the Pacific communities and society, at large, to reduce stigmas and misconceptions about disabilities.”

Hoeflich lists the following as key areas: Access to education and vocational training opportunities, promoting the rights of people with disabilities through stronger legislation, inclusive policies and more funding for support services and infrastructure.

He also wants public spaces to be made more accessible.

“Fostering the active participation of individuals with disabilities in decision-making processes and advocating for their voices at local, national and international levels can help address specific concerns and drive positive change in the Pacific disability community.”

Hoeflich has high hopes for the Pasifika disabled community.

“Creating a more inclusive, equitable and accessible environment that respects the rights and dignity of individuals with disabilities, allowing them to participate fully in society.”

Ngametua believes it comes down to respect and understanding the needs of each Pacific person with a disability.

“Culture, beliefs, religion, race or ability. We all live in this space. Don’t push us out because you have an agenda.

“We, the disability community, have to fight for everything ten times as hard [as] anyone else. The Government didn’t give us many options - that’s why we fight.”

Hero image: Matt Ngametua has mild cerebral palsy hemiplegia and diplegia. Photo / Supplied

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