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Newsletters > Manahau: Resilience and Celebration > 2009 > December

Manahau: Resilience and Celebration

ISSN 1174-9245 December, 2009

The Human Rights Commission has begun working with Māori disabled people to develop a partnership to promote and monitor the implementation of the Disability Convention.

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The United Nations recognises the Human Rights Commission as the official National Human Rights Institution (NRHI) for New Zealand. This means the Commission will provide the Government, the United Nations and others with independent advice on progress made in implementing the Convention. To do this well, the Commission is establishing partnerships with all disabled people.

A group of Māori disabled recently met with the Commission. Discussions focussed on the need for:

  • promoting the Disability Convention and it's relevance to Māori disabled people
  • organising a larger hui to discuss the partnership with the Commission
  • discussion about the appropriate te reo words and phrases for talking about disability issues and the Convention
  • incorporating the Convention into the work of NGOs and reporting on experiences to the group
  • incorporating the principles from the Declaration on the Rights of Indigeneous Peoples' into the implementation of the Disability Convention.

The next meeting of this group will be on 19 February 2010 in Auckland. If you would like more information or would like to be involved in the discussions, please contact Bruce Coleman BruceC@hrc.co.nz or Victoria Manning VictoriaM@hrc.co.nz.

Dr Huhana Hickey

Dr Huhana Hickey

Ko Karioi toku maunga
Ko Whaingaroa toku moana
Ko Pukerewa me Weraroa marae
Ko Ngati Tahinga toku hapu
Ko Waikato toku iwi
Ko Tainui toku waka
Ko Huhana Hickey toku ingoa

Dr Huhana Hickey is a lawyer and works at Auckland Disability Law Services. One of her passions is teaching disabled people about the law so they can feel empowered to advocate for themselves. Her job gives her an excellent opportunity to do this.

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Huhana knows what it's like to experience discrimination and the hard work involved in climbing over the barriers society puts up. She was told she was not bright enough for university, but she went anyway. Huhana went on to gain a bachelor degree, a masters in law with distinction, and then a PhD. While studying, Huhana managed a progressive disability, multiple operations, a brain injury and raising a disabled son.

One of Huhana's favourite mottos is "never give up". "My experiences help me to understand my clients," she says. Huhana's job involves educating both disabled clients and lawyers about the law and disability.

"We make sure the lawyers can do their job appropriately. We also make sure the disabled client is able to understand what is happening."

Building relationships is an important part of this job. "Sometimes we find that clients and service providers have had a communication breakdown and we work hard to try and repair these relationships."

"Some cases are very sad. We do the best we can to get at least some sense of dignity and justice for the disabled person."

As a Māori disabled person, issues for Māori disabled people are also close to Huhana's heart. "I notice that for Māori disabled clients, the issues are often about trust in service providers and providing clients with a feeling of being understood."

Huhana was involved in lobbying for indigenous disabled people issues to be included in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Huhana says, "There are many opportunities for Māori disabled people to use the Convention to advance our issues.

"The Convention gives Tangata Whenua with disabilities the chance to take charge of their lives. We need more opportunities to explore what it means to be Māori and disabled, and to discuss what needs to happen for us.

"We need to be involved in the monitoring of the Convention. I'm pleased to see the Human Rights Commission has started working with us to make sure this can happen" (see previous article).

The Auckland Disability Law service is a free community legal service in the Auckland region. This service aims to help disabled people access legal services, and to increase awareness of disability law.

Auckland Disability Law website: click here.

Disability complaints remain high

The Human Rigths Commission’s Annual Report 2009 shows there has been little or no improvement in human rights for disabled people. An analysis of complaints received by the Commission shows a continuing pattern of difficulties faced by disabled people.

Of all complaints received by the Commission over the last year, a total of 30.6% were about disability discrimination. This is slightly higher than the previous two years (28.7% in 2006-7, and 26.8% in 2007-8). Disability discrimination is the single largest category of complaints received by the Commission.

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The annual report also talks about progress on priorities in the Commission's 2005 Action Plan for Human Rights. This showed little improvements in relation to disabled peoples' participation in New Zealand society.

There has been some work done to achieve a fully accessible public land transport system. However, this progress has been small and there is a lot more work needed if all New Zealanders are able to use public transport in future.

The Commission is concerned at presistent bariers that prevent disabled children and young people from accessing education. The Commission's National Conversation About Work is looking at employment issues in New Zealand. It shows disabled people are being hit hard by the recession and are experiencing serious discrimination in finding and keeping work (see other article in this newsletter).

Because the Commission is concerned about improving human rights for disabled people, the Commission has made 13 recommendations for immediate action by government. These recommendations include disability issues, such as:

  • implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with accessible transport, education and employment as priorities
  • development of a national plan to combat poverty, focusing on children, disabled people, and Māori and Pacific people
  • committement to the full realisation of the right to education.

The right of disabled people to participate fully in New Zealand society continues to be a major focus of the Commission's work.

The Commission's annual report was tabled in Parliament in October 2009.

The Human Rights Commission has a project to promote and protect equal employment opportunities (EEO) in New Zealand. This is the National Conversation About Work project. As part of this work the Commission’s EEO team are meeting people around the country to discuss fairness at work.

In October, Commission staff visited the Hawke’s Bay region, where they met members of the Deaf community and disabled people.

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At a meeting with Deaf community members, only three of 12 were in full-time work. Two Deaf people had professional qualifications but said this did not help them overcome the many barriers Deaf people experience, including:

  • job advertisements giving only a phone number
  • not having a New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreter in Hawke's Bay
  • employment rights information not in accessible formats
  • a lack of employment support services that are appropriate for Deaf people
  • employers misunderstanding that deafness created a higher level of risk for workplace health and safety.

Deaf people also said that at job interviews a NZSL interpreter was often seen as a "support person".

Some people mentioned disabled people were not supported in doing seasonal work in Hawke's Bay, where there is a high demand for seasonal work. People said that employment support services for disabled people focus only on sustainable employment options.

Commission staff have also visited Northland, Nelson/Marlborough, Manawatu-Wanganui, Taranaki, Wellington, and the West Coast. Reports from these regions show disabled people are some of the worst affected by the recession. Disabled people say they face major barriers and discrimination in employment:

  • part-time work is hard to find and keep
  • employers are not interested in employing disabled people
  • wages are very low, including for support people who work with disabled people
  • a sense of having to work harder and better than non-disabled people
  • transport and buildings are often not accessible
  • people on sickness and invalids benefits are not getting the same support to find work as those on the unemployment benefit
  • discrimination in career progression.

You can contribute to the National Conversation About Work through face-to-face meetings, or on the website.

The Commission's EEO team have visited 12 regions and have four more visits planned. These are

Auckland (all year)

Canterbury 15-19 February 2010

Otago 8-12 March 2010

Southland 19-23 April 2010.

If you would like a Commission representative to meet with your community in Auckland, Canterbury, Otago or Southland, contact Sue O'Shea SueO@hrc.co.nz.

The results of this work will contribute to a new EEO strategy to overcome barriers at work for all New Zealanders.

The first Global Report on discrimination published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) stated that:

"the workplace, be it a factory, an office, a plantation, a farm or the street is a strategic entry point from which to combat discrimination in society. People who are denied equal opportunities, equal treatment and dignity at work often suffer discrimination in other spheres as well. In the workplace, however, discrimination can be tackled more readily and effectively."

Human Rights Action Plan – update

Wheelchair basketball

Wheelchair basketball

The Human Rights Commission is starting work on a new Human Rights Action Plan for the next five years.

In 2003, the Human Rights Commission talked to people all over New Zealand to find out what were the most important human rights issues they faced. Human Rights in New Zealand Today was published in 2004, followed by the Action Plan 2005-2010, which included a chapter on disabled people.

The Commission is updating information on human rights in NZ for the new Action Plan 2010-2015.

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Last month, the Commission put out two questions for people to answer. These questions asked what is fair and not fair in your life, and what would make things better. Responses will be used to help write a draft update on human rights in NZ today. This draft will be sent out for consultation early next year. It will have more information and questions for people to answer.

If you missed the chance to respond to the questions in November, there will be more opportunity to give feedback early next year. We will send out notice of the draft document and consultation options in March/April next year. Our next edition of this newsletter will have more information on this. If you would like to be added to our contact list, email VictoriaM@hrc.co.nz.

New Zealand Sign Language

New Zealand Sign Language

Discussions about how to plan for the promotion and maintenance of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) have been taking place, with the support of the Human Rights Commission.

Deaf community stakeholders have identified serious barriers to language rights for deaf people. Many of these problems are not being addressed by the NZSL Act 2006.

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A group of NZSL stakeholders had a second meeting in November. At this meeting Tipene Chrisp was invited to talk about his involvement with the Māori Language Strategy. Tipene shared information about Māori Language promotion and development and offered some helpful advice for similar NZSL work. At this meeting it was agreed to:

  • ask Deaf community people and groups/organisations about priorities for NZSL
  • use feedback from the Deaf community to develop a strategy/action plan for achieving the NZSL priorities.

The group is developing information and questions to ask the Deaf community about NZSL priorities. These will be distributed widely to Deaf groups and organisations between December 2009 and February 2010. Deaf Aotearoa NZ will put the information and questions in NZSL on their website. There will be a variety of ways to give feedback, for example by writing, in NZSL, or face-to-face.

Feedback from the Deaf community will be used to develop a draft NZSL strategy/ action plan.

Future discussions will work on how to write a strategy and how to make it happen, including how to work with government to achieve the NZSL priorities.

Wendi Wicks, Minister Pansy Wong, Robyn Hunt & Brian Gardner

Wendi Wicks, Minister Pansy Wong, Robyn Hunt & Brian Gardner

New Zealand’s first Disability Clothesline project was launched on 25 November, White Ribbon Day. This is a visible statement of the “silent epidemic” of abuse and violence against disabled people in New Zealand.

Pansy Wong, Associate Minister of Disability Issues, launched the project in Wellington. The clothesline is strung with t-shirts that showcase messages by disabled people who have been hurt, or in some cases murdered.

This project complements the White Ribbon Day message that violence against women is not OK.

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Disability Clothesline Project co-coordinator Wendi Wicks says, "Disabled people are New Zealand's largest minority. We're subject to abuse and violence at shockingly high levels, which is poorly acknowledged. This project is about raising awareness of the issues and taking action to show that violence and abuse is never OK."

The Disability Clothesline in an innovative partnership between disabled peoples' organisations and organisations working in the mainstream of family violence services.

Disability Clothesline Project website.

Gary Williams

Gary Williams

Ko Marotiri te maunga
Ko Mangahauini te awa
Ko Te Whanau-a-Ruataupare te hapu
Ko Ngati Porou te iwi

Gary Williams is departing after almost 11 years leading the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA). In this article Gary reflects on one of the highlights of his work as DPA’s CEO and how this is relevant today.

Indigenous disabled peoples’ issues are receiving more and more attention, helped by the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Gary participated in meetings at the United Nations headquarters in New York when the Disability Convention was being negotiated, from 2003-2006. Gary says, “New Zealand worked hard to get the Disability Convention to recognise indigenous disabled peoples’ issues.”

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"NZ's first formal statement on the Convention made specific reference to indigenous people. New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and later Venezuela, were the only Countries (out of 192) that tried to address issues for indigenous disabled people at formal discussions of the Convention."

The position New Zealand pushed for was to:

  • acknowledge and protect the rights of people who experience multiple disadvantage, such as indigenous disabled people, along with other disadvantaged groups and
  • address specific issues of access to language and culture for disabled people who belong to minority ethnic or cultural groups, including indigenous people.

"At the UN, there were a lot of complex issues and processes to try and work around. One of the difficulties was that there is no clear definition of 'indigenous people', although there were efforts to get one. Even the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not provide a definition."

"There were a lot of strong views about the many different groups who experience multiple discrimination. For example, different ethnic and cultural groups, people living in situations of war, gay and lesbian people and older people, etc. Many people felt that if the Convention talked about one group more than another group, it might look like some groups are less important or that their problems are less serious."

The UN also had to get unanimous agreement. There were 192 countries at the meetings, all with very different views and priorities. Words can have very different meanings in different countries. "Some world issues are highly political and the UN must be careful and sensitive about these too, for example the tensions in the Middle East."

"However, despite all these difficulties, New Zealand tried very hard to get the Convention to recognise indigenous peoples' issues."

The final text of the Convention mentions indigenous people in the Preamble paragraph. This recognises the "difficult conditions faced by person with disabilities who are subjects to multiple or aggravated forms of discrimination on the basis of ... indigenous origin".

However, Gary points out that some of the references to indigenous people in the Convention are not immediately obvious. "For example, we managed to get Article 30 'Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport' paragraph 4 to say:

Persons with disabilities shall be entitled, on an equal basis with others, to recognition and support of their specific cultural and linguistic identity...

"While most countries thought that these words only relate to deaf people, we in New Zealand know it also applies to Māori disabled people."

"From my knowledge of how the UN works, I thought we did very well to have specific text adopted that would otherwise have been rejected."

"At meetings in New York, I talked with indigenous people from Australia, Canada, and Sweden about indigenous disabled peoples' issues. I also talked to NZ people who were involved in negotiations on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The Declaration had been in negotiations for many years. The balance that we needed to achieve was having enough references to indigenous people in the Disability Convention without pre-empting the final text of the Declaration. I could imagine that uproar if disabled people from all over the world started negotiating substantive text on indigenous peoples' issues!"

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2007, almost one year after the Disability Convention. The Declaration mentions indigenous people with disabilities in Article 21, which talks about the right to improvement of social and economic conditions, and Article 22.1, which says:

Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities in the implementation of this Declaration.

Gary believes "although New Zealand has not yet signed the Declaration, the rights in it are human rights and they still apply."

"Indigenous people are covered by the Disability Convention. If we use the Declaration as well, we have mechanisms to assert our rights."

"This is not the perfect outcome. But in a bureaucracy like the UN, there can never be perfection but, rather, a series of compromises that everyone can live with."

"As human beings we are covered by other international human rights conventions and covenants. The Disability Convention is a way for us to make sure we get these rights. I'm looking forward to seeing Maori disabled people have more involvement in the Convention."

Banking guidelines launched

Sarah Mehrtens & Robyn Hunt

Sarah Mehrtens & Robyn Hunt

The New Zealand Bankers’ Association has launched new voluntary customer service guidelines to assist banks to provide better service to disabled and older customers.

Human Rights Commissioner Robyn Hunt and Bankers Association Chief Executive Sarah Mehrtens launched the guidelines on 30 November at Deaf Aotearoa NZ’s national office.

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Disabled and older people need to be able to access their financial information held by banks and do their banking independently and easily.

The guidelines provide practical advice on:

  • disability awareness training to staff
  • meeting spaces and queuing aisles wide enough for wheelchairs
  • low teller counters
  • accessible ATMs
  • accessible websites and internet banking services
  • information in different formats, e.g. large print, easy to read, etc
  • New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) interpreters and NZSL information on their websites.

The guidelines also suggest banks consider reducing fees if a person is not able to use particular services due to disability.

The Human Rights Commission worked with the Bankers' Association to set up a disabled and older people's reference group which developed the guidelines with the banks.

To download a copy of the guidelines in Word click here or in PDF from the Bankers Association website.


Robyn Hunt

Robyn Hunt

Today is the UN International Day of Disabled People, a day for celebration, action for change and to promote better understanding of disability issues. In this issue we note both progress and problems.

A Celebration of the launch of the Bankers Association Guidelines for the banking industry on providing service for older and disabled customers began the week on a positive note.

We talk to Maori disabled leaders about their issues, and what the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People means to them. The Commission is building networks with Maori disabled people so our disability human rights work is inclusive

Complaints numbers remain high and we look at issues for Deaf New Zealanders through the National Conversation about work. There are updates on the Human Rights Action Plan, and the development of a New Zealand Sign Language Strategy.

We wish you a happy and safe holiday period and may 2010 be a notable year for human rights progress!

="attachment_2761" align="alignleft" width="160" caption="Robyn Hunt"]Robyn Hunt[/caption]

Today is the UN International Day of Disabled People, a day for celebration, action for change and to promote better understanding of disability issues. In this issue we note both progress and problems.

A Celebration of the launch of the Bankers Association Guidelines for the banking industry on providing service for older and disabled customers began the week on a positive note.

We talk to Maori disabled leaders about their issues, and what the Convention on the Rights of Disabled People means to them. The Commission is building networks with Maori disabled people so our disability human rights work is inclusive

Complaints numbers remain high and we look at issues for Deaf New Zealanders through the National Conversation about work. There are updates on the Human Rights Action Plan, and the development of a New Zealand Sign Language Strategy.

We wish you a happy and safe holiday period and may 2010 be a notable year for human rights progress!