Monthly Archives: November 2007

Goodbye to old style sheltered workshops

Today the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Repeal Act 2007 takes effect, just in time for the International Day of Disabled People on the 3rd of December. Finally disabled people have the right to a decent wage, and the same protection by the law as non-disabled people in the workplace.

We should be celebrating, and we will. Sadly though, there is still discrimination out there. The high number of complaints received by the Human Rights Commission is testimony to that, and I suspect that is just the tip of the iceberg. Find me a disabled person over the age of twenty one and they have probably experienced discrimination at some time. I certainly have. The DPEP Act, (Disabled Person Employment Promotions Act) might have been OK in the sixties but its time has long gone. Good riddance. It will not be mourned by many.

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Filed under Disability Rights

White Ribbon Day

Sunday November 25th is White Ribbon Day. This is the international day when men can choose to wear a white ribbon to show they don’t tolerate or condone men’s violence towards women. Started by a group of men in Canada in 1991, the White Ribbon Campaign was a response to the killing of 14 female students at Montreal University. In 1999, the United Nations officially adopted 25 November as its International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Wearing a white ribbon is a personal pledge to not commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and children. The Human Rights Commission has more information on White Ribbon Day.

Sadly there is a great need for such a campaign. While domestic and family violence are at least widely discussed in communities, if not eliminated, there are other forms of violence which are not so widely discussed. Violence and abuse of older people is beginning to register on the collective consciousness, but violence towards disabled people in their homes barely rates a mention.

Hopefully this will change very soon. A coalition is being built between disabled people, the DPA, and the National Network of Stopping Violence. Perhaps as we approach this important date next year the issue will be firmly on the national agenda.

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Filed under Disability Rights, Miscellaneous

Presentations, powerpoints and pdfs (again!)

To say that accessible information goes beyond web sites would seem to be obvious to the most unthinking, yet this is sadly not true.

Recently I was involved in running a meeting where presenters were asked to ensure their presentation was accessible to a mixed disability audience. I did not have time to advise so trusted the presenters to do their best, which they did.

The results were mixed. Everyone had obviously given the matter some thought. No one used PowerPoints, although one presenter had prepared one and helpfully distributed large print copies which everyone except the blind people could access to some degree.

Presenters talked through their presentations and the meeting was lively and participatory, and I think successful. We had hired Sign interpreters, and the day was carefully structured and facilitated, but we probably all could have done more to make the information conveyed completely accessible. Jargon is something to be watched, for example.

It is always a challenge meeting the information requirements of a diverse disabled audience at meetings and other events.

  • The process begins with finding a venue and physical access considerations.
  • Presenters need to be able to work with Sign interpreters, (not difficult to learn, even for fast talkers like me.) They must be able to communicate often abstract and complex ideas to an audience with the usual range of understandings of any given topic and different cognitive and sensory impairments.
  • As well there are all the peripheral things to deal with such as external noise, room temperature too hot or too cold, people who don’t turn off their mobiles etc etc.

But it is a challenge I enjoy. I feel passionately about the right of disabled people to have access to information and the range of democratic processes, and it is an area where you can always learn something. Sometimes I feel frustrated though when public bodies have done the right thing at one level, but still don’t know why they have done it and don’t really “get” this diverse communication thing.

For example take a particular consultation, and I won’t name the organisation – my object is not to shame them but to help them and others learn. They dutifully put their consultation document on their web site in another more accessible format than pdf, as required for good reason by the government web standards, and good on them, but they then undermined their own efforts and sent the pdf only to a disability organisation.

Fortunately, the intrepid recipient followed the link back to the web site and retrieved the situation, but what a waste of effort, and so easily done, with good PR as a spinoff.

Another public consultation which is critical for disabled people to know about was not so easily sorted. Some of the information was available in accessible HTML. Sadly the crucial bit was only available in what Jakob Nielsen so aptly calls the creature from the black lagoon! The dreaded PDF. We tried printing it off, and it was without doubt one of the worst print documents I have ever seen. An arrangement in grey and white and barely readable it looked like the printer had run out of ink. It hadn’t.

Perhaps we do need a public name and shame campaign before those with responsibility to communicate properly with all New Zealanders will ‘get it’. What price mandatory government standards for web sites?

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Filed under Information Accessibility, Web Accessibility

In praise of Parihaka

Another Guy Fawkes Day has come and gone with the usual instructions from the long suffering Fire Service to be sensible with incendiary devices, and threats from authority that if we don’t behave we won’t be allowed fireworks next year. I am left wondering about the relevance of a celebration of the safe deliverance from a terrorist plot four hundred years ago to the increasing number of New Zealanders who, unlike me, do not have England in their ancestry. The lure of fireworks is hard to resist.

This year I witnessed a commemoration much closer to home. Parihaka Day marks an event in our history that as a Pakeha I cannot be proud of. Yet as a sometimes struggling pacifist those same events resonate very strongly with me.

In 1881 on November 5th a government invasion force laid waste to the peaceful settlement of Parihaka in Taranaki. More than 2000 Parihaka residents sat quietly on the marae while children at play greeted the army. This was a community that held to non-violent action long before Ghandi or modern peace protests and civil disobedience.

The Riot Act was read and the community’s spiritual leaders (prophets Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi) were arrested and, with many of their followers, later imprisoned under conditions of great hardship in the South Island.

Women and young girls were raped leading to an outbreak of syphilis. Homes and crops were destroyed, and livestock slaughtered or confiscated.

This year I heard a Pakeha friend who has strong family links to that part of the country, together with a Maori colleague speak about the history of that place and their connections of blood ties, of sadness and loss and enduring hope. While the invasion and destruction at Parihaka and related events were shameful, yet from them came a sense of our connectedness, of the interweaving of the destiny of Maori and Pakeha, the power of forgiveness and of the resilience and generosity of the human spirit.

In times of real and perceived terrorist threats we can follow the example of Te Whiti and Tohu and their followers along paths of peace and reconciliation. We can uncover our shared history and celebrate their model of human rights through peace and justice.They join leaders and teachers of all nations and all times who have worked to make the world a better place.

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Filed under Miscellaneous