Accessibility legislation would boost NZ’s economy

Asia-Pacific, March 1 2017

NEW ZEALAND: In an unprecedented move, a diverse range of disability groups have come together to issue a call for legislation that would enable people with disabilities to more actively participate in society. The newly created Access Alliance is calling on all parliamentary parties to commit to introduce accessibility legislation prior to the general election in September.

Wheelchair Access SymbolThe Alliance today released a report by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research “Valuing Access to Work”. The report highlights the economic and social benefits of removing barriers to employment for the largest group of under-employed and unemployed New Zealanders, and supporting disabled people to actively contribute to the country they love. These include a potential $300million per year reduction in Jobseeker Health Condition or Disability benefit costs and increased tax revenues of $387million. The net productivity gain impact alone is a rise in real GDP of $862million. Better accessibility would also mean better education and employment outcomes for disabled New Zealanders.

The proposed legislation would enforce mandatory minimum accessibility standards that ensure organisations provide services and facilities that are fully inclusive and accessible, opening the door to disabled Kiwis having the same opportunities and choices as everyone else.

Former Ontario Minister of Children’s Services and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Dr. Marie Bountrogianni is in New Zealand to meet with Members of Parliament and businesses and to support the campaign. Dr Bountrogianni was responsible for introducing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005.

Dr. Bountrogianni says, “The ideal of accessibility is one in which nobody has to ask ‘is it accessible?’ Anyone with any impairment, temporary or permanent – to their mobility; their physical or mental health; their hearing or vision or speech; their ability to learn or understand information; even a pregnant woman or a parent wrangling small children has an accessibility need – can access any public service or facility. At any given time, 25% of Ontarians and Kiwis are in this category, and the same proportion of visitors or tourists.”

Every day, the estimated 1.1 million New Zealanders who have access needs face barriers in their everyday lives. Physical barriers mean they can’t access some buildings or use forms of transport, while information and communication barriers include websites that are difficult or impossible to use for people who have vision, learning or hearing impairments.

“People with disabilities face too many obstacles, making it harder for them to work or to study. It’s time to look at how we can enable disabled people to participate in the community and economy, rather than focusing on the costs of managing disability issues in the traditional way; one person at a time. Access matters,” says Dianne Rogers, spokesperson for The Access Alliance.

Ms Rogers says legislation will help businesses and organisations know what they need to do to enable people with disabilities to access their services, buildings, and products.

“The current human rights legislation does not give organisations clear and specific directions on what they must do to become fully accessible as employers and service providers. Current laws do not tell those working in many public and most private sector organisations how to design a website, or provide employment or goods and services, to ensure that people with disabilities fully benefit from, or can participate in, them” says Ms Rogers

The proposed legislation, the Accessibility for New Zealanders Act, aims to achieve this. It will consolidate the existing standards, develop new standards where required, and specify their comprehensive application and enforcement. The Act will align with existing human rights legislation and will set a timeline for its implementation.

Ms Rogers says, “It’s the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, and it’s the right time to do it.”

For more information, go to accessalliance.org.nz

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