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Newsletters > Manahau: Resilience and Celebration > 2010 > December

Manahau: Resilience and Celebration

ISSN 1174-9245 December, 2010

Fighting for disability rights

Judy McGregor EEO commissioner

Judy McGregor EEO commissioner

Disabled people continue to have to fight for their rights because society denies them justice, respect and a fair go.

Recently at the fantastic DPA Conference held in Invercargill (congratulations, DPA!) I was asked whether the Human Rights Commission thought it was acceptable that disabled people should have to struggle through mediation and litigation, often for many years with added emotional stress and financial hardship?

Of course, the Human Rights Commission does not think this is acceptable. We acknowledge the amazing sacrifice of  those who fight for the rights of disabled people and offer as much support as we can in the process.

Without those truly courageous disabled people who are prepared to fight, societal attitudes will never change, remedies will not be available to those who have suffered human rights abuses, and government responses and service delivery will never improve.

In this edition of Manahau we feature a disability rights and accommodation case in which Justice was done. It relates to Article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This states that State Parties shall ensure that “private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accountability for persons with disabilities”.

Can I wish all Manahau readers and their families and supporters very warm Christmas greetings on behalf of staff, managers and Commissioners of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. I would like to especially thank Victoria Manning for her great work writing Manahau in 2010.

Nga mihi mo te Kirihimete.

J McGregor's signature

 Judy McGregor

="attachment_7067" align="alignleft" width="108" caption="Judy McGregor EEO commissioner"]Judy McGregor EEO commissioner[/caption]

Disabled people continue to have to fight for their rights because society denies them justice, respect and a fair go.

Recently at the fantastic DPA Conference held in Invercargill (congratulations, DPA!) I was asked whether the Human Rights Commission thought it was acceptable that disabled people should have to struggle through mediation and litigation, often for many years with added emotional stress and financial hardship?

Of course, the Human Rights Commission does not think this is acceptable. We acknowledge the amazing sacrifice of  those who fight for the rights of disabled people and offer as much support as we can in the process.

Without those truly courageous disabled people who are prepared to fight, societal attitudes will never change, remedies will not be available to those who have suffered human rights abuses, and government responses and service delivery will never improve.

In this edition of Manahau we feature a disability rights and accommodation case in which Justice was done. It relates to Article 9 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This states that State Parties shall ensure that "private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accountability for persons with disabilities".

Can I wish all Manahau readers and their families and supporters very warm Christmas greetings on behalf of staff, managers and Commissioners of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. I would like to especially thank Victoria Manning for her great work writing Manahau in 2010.

Nga mihi mo te Kirihimete.

J McGregor's signature

 Judy McGregor

A case of puppy Justice

Justice, the puppy

Justice, the puppy

Tauranga woman Laura Eitjes found herself in the limelight last year when she set out on an unintended journey towards justice. While holidaying in 2007, Laura and her friend’s stay at a North Island holiday accommodation was cut short when Laura (legally blind since the age of 17) was told her guide dog could no longer stay in her room.

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Although Laura had informed the owner about guide dog Rua when booking, on the second day of their stay, she found Rua's bed had been removed from the room and placed on the deck. In spite of further explanations of her rights and the owner's responsibilities, the matter was not settled and the group moved to alternative accommodation.

The accommodation owner, by not allowing Rua to stay with Laura, breached the Human Rights Act. Mediation by the Human Rights Commission did not resolve the issue. The matter was later settled before it was heard by the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

Laura received $8000 compensation with an unreserved apology. Her case was reported widely, including a feature in the Bay of Plenty Times.

However, the case did not end there. Laura donated $5000 of the settlement to the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind's Guide Dog Services. The money will help towards the expenses of training a guide dog puppy.

Laura is well aware of the difference a guide dog can make to the life of a person who has lost their sight. "The impact of a guide dog is so wide ranging it is difficult to know where to begin. Together we have the confidence to do things sighted people take for granted."

With no government funding, it costs over $22,500 and, on average, two years to breed and train a guide dog. Laura's generous donation will contribute to the training of puppy Justice, from the "J" litter, who she named earlier this year. Justice is a Labrador retriever/golden retriever cross, currently living in Auckland with his puppy walker. Laura will be updated on his progress every three months.

Looking back, Laura says, "I hope by making this stand for Rua and myself, business owners and managers will be better informed about their responsibilities so this situation need not occur to someone else in the future.

"Justice was done in this case!"

Rosslyn Noonan, Chief Human Rights Commissioner

Rosslyn Noonan, Chief Human Rights Commissioner

The Government has announced it will establish a full-time Disability Rights Commissioner within the Human Rights Commission. It also announced that the Commission will be part of the independent monitoring of the Disability Convention.

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Chief Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said the Commission is working with the Minister of Justice to make the necessary changes to the Human Rights Act to establish a full-time Disability Rights Commissioner. Once the Human Rights Act is amended to formally establish the new Disability Rights Commissioner, the role would be widely advertised and an appointment made as soon as possible. The Minister has not stated a timeframe, but disabled people's organisations might assist by putting pressure on the Government to progress this.

The Government has given the Commission additional funding to carry out its responsibilities as part of the independent monitoring of the Disability Convention. The Commission has temporarily increased its staff working on disability issues. When the Disability Rights Commissioner is appointed more permanent arrangements will be put in place. The Commission has appointed Nicola Owen as Disability Programme Coordinator (see next article). The role will assist the Commission in preparing its independent report to the United Nations on the Disability Convention.

Until a full-time Disability Rights Commissioner is appointed, Ms Noonan and EEO Commissioner  Dr Judy McGregor , will share responsibility for disability rights in the Commission. Richard Tankersley, a part-time South Island Commissioner, will assist Ms Noonan and Dr McGregor.

The Commission has strongly advocated for the establishment of a full-time Disability Rights Commissioner with the Government since the ratification of the Disability Convention.

Ms Noonan said, "This is a sign of real progress in measures to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the Disability Convention."

This new role will mean a greater focus on ensuring disabled people can take an equal place in New Zealand society without discrimination.

Nicola Owen (right) and Shae Ronald

Nicola Owen (right) and Shae Ronald

Nicola Owen, from Auckland Disability Law, has started work at the Human Rights Commission on a six-month secondment (short-term contract). Ms Owen will be supporting the Commission’s disability programme work, including organising community meetings on the Disability Convention. Information from these meetings will then be used for the Commission’s independent report to the United Nations on the Disability Convention, due in 2011. 

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Auckland Disability Law and the Commission want to make sure disabled people's experiences are reflected in this report.

Ms Owen is a disabled person with a background in disability rights, community engagement, and project coordination. She has had disability advisor and management jobs in universities both in New Zealand and in the United Kingdom.

Talking with disabled people

A New Zealand Sign Langauge sign for "talk"

A New Zealand Sign Langauge sign for "talk"

The Human Rights Commission wants to meet with disabled people to hear their stories and to make sure disabled people’s voices are included in its work. This work includes updating the Human Rights Action Plan and the Commission’s independent report to the United Nations on the Disability Convention.

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Meetings with disabled communities and organizations around the country will seek information on disabled people's experiences and the barriers they face. The Commission is beginning to have individual meetings now and is preparating for larger community meetings in March/April 2011. The Commission is planning to have separate huis with whānau hauā (Māori disabled people) and Pasefika disabled people. 

The Commission's work on disabled people's rights is supported by the Commission's Disability Experts Group. This group assists the Commission in analysing and prioritising all the information.

If you would like to be included on the Commission's disability contacts data base, please contact Victoria Manning VictoriaM@hrc.co.nz; Bruce Coleman BruceC@hrc.co.nz, ph: 03 353 0952; or Nicola Owen NicolaO@hrc.co.nz, ph: 09 375 8649.

Disabled people losing out in job market

Disabled people have more difficulties getting and keeping work. They are often in jobs below their skill level, and  are twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people. These findings are part of a report from the Human Rights Commission called “What Next? National Conversations about Work” which has a focus on disabled people and employment issues.

The report reveals that in the recent economic downturn, disabled people have experienced high levels of unemployment and redundancy.  

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One disabled person in Southland said, "You have to work harder to prove your worth. At work, I find that I try to keep one step ahead of everyone, always planning and preparing in advance so that, in my role, I don't appear to be incompetent, needy or different from anyone else."

Disabled people reported that employers often made incorrect assumptions. A group of blind people in Wellington said interviewers did not ask how guide dogs behaved at work. They assumed the guide dog would be like their family pet and would run around distracting everyone.

A difficult issue for some people is whether to tell a potential employer about a mental illness. A group in Auckland believed disclosing their mental illness on a job application means you are less likely to get a job interview. However, not telling an employer about a mental illness means there is a risk they will not provide accommodations if you become unwell. There might also be a risk of being dismissed for dishonesty.

Unemployment is highest among Māori and Pacific people with disabilities. Their rates are more than three times higher than those of other disabled people (2006 Statistics NZ Disability Survey).

"Access to work for people with disabilities is one of the most common themes that emerged from the National Conversation about Work", says EEO Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor. "We have to urgently find ways to help disabled people to be able to work productively. That's why the Employers Disability Network is such an important initiative." (See next article.)

The Disability Convention "Human Rights - Yes!" resource highlights how the subtle nature of disability discrimination at work can make it difficult for disabled people to challenge the violation of their rights.

Violation of the right to work can trap disabled people in a cycle of poverty. For example, a disabled person who is unable to work and earn a fair wage may be unable to attain an adequate standard of living. This situation can force that person to become dependent on others, restricting choices and limiting the ability to live independently in the community.

The National Conversation report recommendations include: increasing the number of disabled people in work, promoting inclusive employment practices, clarifying the minimum wage exemptions, and providing guidance on telling employers about having a mental health issue.

Information from the National Conversation will be used to develop a new framework for changing legislation, policy and practice to improve equal employment opportunities.

Government must employ more disabled people

The Disability Convention lists employing more disabled people in the public sector as an important part of ensuring disabled people’s right to work. Article 27 of the Disability Convention bluntly tells governments to “employ persons with disabilities in the public sector”.

As New Zealand’s largest employer and signatory to the Disability Convention, the Government should serve as a good model for private-sector employers.

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The research document Journey to Work identifies the need for more leadership from the public sector in the recruitment, support and career development of disabled people. It calls for a strategy and targets to increase the number of disabled people in work.

The State Services Commissioner has a responsibility to promote and monitor equal employment opportunities in the public sector, including for disabled people. Data collection on disabled people employed in the public sector ceased in 2006, because of problems with the data quality.

Many countries have quota systems for employing disabled people, particularly in the public sector, according to the Disability Convention's Handbook for Parliamentarians. A quota system is where agencies must hire a target number of disabled people. Overseas, these quota range between two and seven per cent and normally apply to medium to large agencies. Agencies who do not meet these targets are usually fined. These fines have not always improved employment rates, but funding from the fines is often spent on employment-related programmes for disabled people.

The Disability Convention puts an obligation on the Government to ensure equal employment opportunities for disabled people. Equal opportunities can include things like affirmative action programmes (such as a quota system), incentives, reasonable accommodations, supported employment services and support to employers.

In New Zealand, there are supported employment services, reasonable accommodation provisions and initiatives to support employers. However, there has been little consideration of affirmative action programmes and government incentives for employing disabled people.

The Disability Convention's promotion of the right to work covers persons with disabilities at all stages of employment, including those seeking work, those advancing in employment and those who acquire a disability during employment.

Disabled young people need more services

Disabled young people are almost twice as likely as young non-disabled people to leave school without a qualification.

One of the biggest issues facing disabled young people and their parents is the need for planned transitions from school to work, tertiary education or training and other meaningful day-time activities. The Journey to Work document calls for a national transition planning process for young disabled people.

A recommendation of the National Conversation about Work report was that every young New Zealander should have an individual youth-to-work plan. The report found that services are failing too many young people who are not well prepared for their first job.

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The Government provides some initiatives aimed at supporting disabled young people's transitions to employment. This includes services and support provided by the Ministries of Social Development and Education. However, the 2006 Disability Survey found that only 17 per cent of disabled adults had used career guidance or information services.

Employment rates for disabled people are strongly linked to educational attainment. The 2006 Disability Survey found that 78 per cent of disabled children with high support needs and 50 per cent of children with medium support needs have experienced some kind of limitation in their school activities.

The Journey to Work and National Conversation reports both highlight the need for more nationally consistent and coordinated plans for young people, beginning in their school years.

Anne Hawker

Anne Hawker

A new network to promote best practice in employing disabled people needs to define actions and targets to ensure it can be effective.

The Employers’ Disability Network aims to assist employers to become confident at hiring disabled people, and to recruit and retain disabled people in jobs.

The Network is holding their first strategic meeting early in 2011 to identify their next steps and priorities. Some clear data and targets are needed to help get more disabled people into work and make sure disabled people retain their jobs.

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The Network is designed by employers for employers. Its board is chaired by John Allen, the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Other board members include top executives from ANZ bank, Westpac bank, Fletcher Building, the Accident Compensation Corporation, the Ministry of Social Development and the Department of Corrections. The Network is administered by Anne Hawker, Principal Disability Advisor at the Ministry of Social Development.

The Network has been focusing on providing employers with information and resources through their website, which was launched in Parliament on 24 September. These resources include publications and research on promoting the participation of disabled people in employment.

The Employers' Disability Network supports employers' understanding of people with disabilities, helps more people into work and improves services to disabled customers.

It provides a forum to:

  • connect employers with services and expert advice in the disability area
  • address strategic issues
  • develop solutions to common barriers
  • promote the economic and social inclusion of disabled people.