Ten years ago this August the United Nations completed the negotiations for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (CRPD.) at the UN in New York. It was a huge relief that the wheeling and dealing was over, and we’d got much of what we wanted. Of course the real work was just beginning. But we all set off to party on that hot August night.
Disabled people in New Zealand were optimistic about the CRPD and the leading role New Zealand had taken in its development. The first NZ Disability Strategy was still fresh, the Sign Language Act was passed that year and the last of the big institutions was closing. The Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Act, which allowed sheltered workshops to avoid employment rights for many disabled workers, was repealed the following year. As a result of all of the above, New Zealand won the prestigious Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award for 2007.
Ten years later how has implementation of the CRPD fared?
The New Zealand government ratified the CRPD in 2008, and is showing willing to ratify the optional protocol. The government is positive about ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty, but needs encouragement. We have a disability rights human rights commissioner, disabled people’s organisations are working more closely with government, and the sixteen-year-old Disability Strategy is finally being reviewed.
But I have a sense of unease and disillusion in the disability community. As always money is tight. The Convention Coalition set up as part of the monitoring mechanism for the CRPD seems to have lost its funding and there aren’t seats around the government table for groups of disabled people who don’t have their own national representative organisations. The same old issues are raising their heads with depressing lack of progress among the now 24% of New Zealanders who are disabled.
- There are problems with exclusion and the funding of “special” education.
- Maori and Pacific disabled people are behind others in most social indicators
- There is a small group of vulnerable disabled people who aren’t criminals detained without redress for significant lengths of time.
- Disabled women in New Zealand still have no strong national voice of our own.
- Access to the built environment, NZS4121 and enforcing legislation are desperately in need of review, reform and modernising.
- There is no sign of legislative reform and change in mental health provisions and the Adoption Act, contentious at the time of the CRPD ratification.
- Assisted decision making does not seem to be on the public agenda
- Employment remains an intractable issue
- There is no indication that the troubling inequity between health and ACC services will change
- Disability data formerly collected with the census will be collected less regularly and there is unease about disability data and how it will be gathered.
- Safety and fear of violence and abuse are common, and related community services are not dealing well with disabled people.
- Government and other public web sites are not as accessible as they should be.
- Disabled people’s representative organisations are stretched and under-resourced and need time and space to develop their own agendas.
- Disabled people worry about negative public attitudes and behaviour and media coverage and portrayal.
- The consultations on the draft disability strategy raised concern about the lack of a strategic approach and an individual rather than a systemic and structural focus. Disabled people are also suspicious about accountability and impatient with the extended time frame for implementing the new strategy.
- Act MP David Seymour recently referred to the 24% of disabled New Zealanders as “a worthy cause.”
There is still much to be done.
Years ago I used to say, half-jokingly, that I would be old and grey before there is any real substantial change. I am now old and grey, and, sadly, my facetious prediction seems to have come true.