By Hon CARMEL SEPULONI
Minister for Social Development, Minister for Disability Issues, Associate Minister for Pacific Peoples, Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage
Mālō e lelei, Tēnā Koutou, Talofa Lava, Bula Bula, Ni Hao and greetings,
I am excited to have another busy year ahead as Minister for Disability Issues. We made so much progress last year, launching the prototype of the transformed Disability Support System in MidCentral, the new NZSL strategy 2018‒2023, an accessibility guide for government agencies, and an accessibility charter which has already been signed by 37 public sector Chief Executives.
Last month, on 4 January 2019, we celebrated World Braille Day. It was the first time that the day has been recognised by the United Nations and New Zealand. Many people spoke about how braille has changed their life, opening the doors to education and employment for them. We estimate that braille is helping around 700 New Zealanders with low vision to gain greater independence through access to written information, learning resources in schools and tertiary facilities.
We want as many New Zealanders as possible to be able to participate fully in society. This Government is committed to working to build a truly inclusive society and supporting disabled people to live their lives to their fullest potential.
In December, Cabinet agreed to a major accessibility work programme, which will explore how we can achieve full accessibility for disabled people and all New Zealanders, including seniors, carers of young children, people with English as a second language, and those with temporary injuries.
This work programme will involve collaboration with a wide variety of stakeholders, including the Access Alliance, other disability groups and small business to work through the details.
I want to acknowledge the work of the Access Alliance. I get great advice from policy papers but the real stories of disabled people bring life to the issues we are seeking to address.
Last year I was presented with a book of stories from people who had experienced accessibility barriers by the Access Alliance at Parliament. A group of about 60 people, ranging in age from young people to over 65 year olds, with diverse backgrounds came together to be a part of this event.
Their stories are a constant reminder that we can and must do better. They showed their passion and dedication to a more accessible New Zealand, and I am grateful to have been a part of it.
It was a privilege to meet a group of disabled young people from Hillcrest High School in my office late last year. They told me about the amount of organisation and planning required by leaders and parents to get the group from Hamilton to Wellington, as they all had very varied access needs – some couldn’t fly while others couldn’t travel by road. That meeting stays with me as a reminder of the accessibility challenges these young people face every day. However, after listening to them, I also had confidence that we can achieve a more inclusive New Zealand thanks to young emerging leaders like them.
A lack of accessibility to transport, information, communications and customer services creates barriers to employment, housing, education and to a decent standard of living and quality of life. At the current time, a quarter of New Zealanders including seniors are disabled and that proportion is growing. Because we have a rapidly ageing population we need to start work now, so that all New Zealanders and future generations can participate fully in society.
The accessibility work programme will be led by the Ministry of Social Development alongside the Access Alliance, Disabled People’s Organisations, the Office for Disability Issues and the Office for Seniors. Careful consultation and advice will be required with all stakeholders so that what is developed is well understood and supported.
I am certain that the accessibility work programme will unlock improvements that transform the future, thereby enabling a greater number of disabled people to fully participate in society.