Local government elections are done and dusted for another three years, and disabled people who care about such things will start putting their energy into making sure next year’s parliamentary elections are more accessible than the last,
The lack of accessibility to local government elections is appalling, especially in comparison with parliamentary elections, and they are far from universally accessible. Wellington City is the only local body that seems to have made any effort at all, minimalist, but still a start. It is no wonder that disabled people struggle to get their voices heard over such matters as accessible transport and the built environment, access to quality health care and general recognition as part of their local communities when they have so little access to the political processes that govern them.
I have always voted in national parliamentary elections except when I have been out of the country. I have stressed to my daughters and disabled people to whom I have taught self-advocacy the importance of taking part in the precious democratic process that people have died to establish and protect.
But I have to admit to not always voting in local government elections, despite the huge influence local government has on the daily lives of everyone, including disabled people. Like many others I suspect I find the process complex and confusing, I have often never heard of some of the people involved, and the process is convoluted and inaccessible.
Sadly many of those not even registered to vote in the new super-city Auckland and elsewhere will be disabled people.
It is not difficult to know why there is such a lack of interest. It is partly a combination of cynicism and apathy – a “plague on all your houses” attitude. But a strong contributing factor is that our electoral and political systems are fundamentally inaccessible. I don’t mean the voting process itself as much as the process leading up to polling day.
I have never seen or heard of any candidate material in alternative formats, or of any meetings with Sign Language interpreters. So it is difficult to know how many disabled people are excluded from the voting process.
There are many areas where the twenty percent of New Zealanders with disabilities could, and should be influencing the political system, but first we need proper access to the information during the process. As for standing as candidates, there are very few success stories.
There is an irony that political parties, as private entities are exempt from the Human Rights Act and don’t have to provide access. This is a fundamental flaw in our human rights system, as a friend of mine found when one of our two major political parties felt that they were under no obligation to provide material in an accessible format. Yet access to the political system and public life is a fundamental civil and political right.
But just because an activity is not forbidden by law, and is, theoretically, allowed it does not mean it actually happens. It cannot therefore be assumed that disabled people’s civil and political rights are anywhere near being realised in New Zealand when it comes to voting and participating in local governance.
I suspect the situation won’t change too much without a lot of effort from disabled people.