Disability sector crisis worsening


What is disability you ask?

According to the State Services Commission disability is not something people have. They have impairments. Disability is the process by which people create barriers by designing a world fit for them without taking into account the impairments of other people. Statistics New Zealand defines disability as any self perceived limitation caused by a long term condition or health problem, expected to last 6 months or more and not completely eliminated by an assisting device.

Having grown up with hand/eye co-ordination issues that are largely resolved other than not being confident driving a manual vehicle and hearing impairment since birth, I have experienced some of the issues that confront people with impairments. My parents and General Practitioner have confronted the issues around finding me suitable support and minimizing those impairments.

One might now say that the disability sector (I am starting to see why advocates do not like the word “disability”) now has an impairment of its own. Despite billions spent on health in New Zealand, the public would be right to ask whether we get dollar for dollar value in our health care, which by world standards is still pretty good.

But there is an impairment in the disability sector. Years of under-funding mean a lot of programmes are run on shoe string budgets and unavoidably force the District Health Boards to use money that they have not necessarily been allocated. That has created a short fall now reaching $150 million.

I find this quite disgusting given that Governments of the centre-left are supposed to support minority groups including those with impairments. For all the hot air coming out of politicians mouths about people with impairments, surprisingly little seems to get done. Two Members of Parliament spending a day working in wheel chairs to demonstrate empathy is 99% show 1% action.

A significant issue is public perception and one of the issues that needs to be tackled at school where students often find that their school has accepted students with mobility issues. Very often ignorance of what constitutes an impairment and what the actual capabilities of a person are – they might have perfect hand/eye co-ordination, but not be able to use their legs. Others might have speech impairments, but be able to communicate on paper, or using electronic media.

A second problem facing people who have mobility issues is quite simple yet fundamental. A person in a wheel chair cannot go very far if their wheels cannot do simple things such as get over the curb at a pedestrian crossing or over the lip of the floor in a door frame. Some of this is simple design of the buildings – when the building was designed there might not have been a requirement to provide for wheel chairs, or mobility scooters.

Am I perfect in terms of going to help someone who is stuck? Absolutely not, but I will go and help a person in obvious need of assistance no questions asked. One such time I saw a guy who had just crossed a major road on his mobility scooter as I drove past, who was stuck on the curb. I pulled over at the first safe spot and went back, but by that time someone else had moved him to safety. And I am reminded also of a gentleman who used to be a teacher aide at my high school. He had multiple sclerosis, which had limited the use of his hands and other muscles were failing too, yet he would also help out with the rifle club that I was a member of. Since he could not get the guns carry bags out himself, the students would do it for him. The school built a ram entrance for each building to enable him access.

But not everyone is so lucky. A family from not so good socio-economic circumstances will struggle to find appropriate support in a straight jacketed system. In a system with a short fall of $150 million that support could be seriously lacking in resources and staffing.

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