Two weeks ago I went to a two day forum run by the Welfare Working Group, and ever since I have been thinking about what I heard there and feeling a growing concern for the future of our welfare system.
Many of the presenters took a very statistical and quantitative approach to what they saw as the ‘problem’ of growing numbers of people on benefits. Taking such a “siloed” approach to the issue seems to me to be counter-productive. One of the reasons for the increase in numbers on benefits is the increasing economic and social inequality in New Zealand society. Without tackling that the problem will never be solved without draconian measures that will bring other side effects such as increasing crime, or the undermining of our precious democracy.
Since I am more familiar with disability issues I will write about disabled people. Disabled people face entrenched and widespread discrimination in education and employment, and particular groups of disabled people struggle to be recognised as valued and contributing members of society. Despite their best efforts they are often among the poorest people. The costs of living with disability, both the financial and opportunity costs are not understood well within the welfare system.
But most of all disabled people are often seen as a burden, a cost to be ‘carried’ by society, rather than a group of people with something to offer, on the asset side of the ledger. What is valued gets counted and invested in. What is not valued and invested in is discounted.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has been ratified by 87 countries to date. Disabled people in these countries can make the most of the accessible information provisions in the preamble and articles nine and 21 of the Convention.
There are real opportunities created by the CRPD to engage with government, local and national, the wider public sector and the private sector to promote access to information. Working with other disabled people who experience barriers to information and with their supporters, disabled people can take charge of their own access to information. Taking an active and leadership role will mean disabled people’s human rights progress will be faster. Nothing about us without us!
Everyone will benefit from accessible information.
- Learn about the CRPD and human rights. The CRPD can be accessed in a variety of formats through the Office for Disability Issues web site, (ODI) It is available in every possible format, including New Zealand Sign Language and Maori. Articles nine and 21 contain the main provisions
- Complain constructively and strategically, and as groups if that will be more influential, for example, report inaccessible web sites
- Educate information providers about accessible information and how to provide it in ways that will be comprehensive and inclusive. Be prepared to work with them.
- Engage with the wider community of print-disabled people to think and act strategically about priorities, working together to avoid “divide and rule” tactics. Strategic alliances between the different print disabled communities can go a long way towards preventing such tactics. People who are print disabled include; blind and partially sighted, Deaf, deaf/blind, those who cannot hold a book, those who need easy read because of cognitive disability, people who are dyslexic, brain injured, have memory loss, medication that impairs concentration and more.
- Create a business case for the private sector in particular. They may respond more readily to numbers and $$$ than to a rights based case. The demographics become more compelling each year with a rapidly ageing population with higher rates of impairment. By 2031 26% of the New Zealand population will be over 65, and we know the older population has higher disability rates (Statistics New Zealand)
- Get involved in the monitoring process. There are disability coalitions working on monitoring in many countries and disabled people must be involved in government implementation and reporting, (article 33.) That way you can usefully contribute to the reporting about information accessibility
- Lastly, but importantly, acknowledge and celebrate best practice, progress and successful outcomes. Give credit where credit is due.
This post is taken from a keynote presented at the recent Australasian Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities conference. The full text will be published there and on the AccEase web site.