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Lifting NZ’s access game

06 October 2017 - By Lynda Hagen

Many social groups experience particular difficulties in gaining access to justice. Over several years the Law Foundation has supported projects that help people in such groups understand and exercise their legal rights.

Our projects have assisted children, youth, people with intellectual disabilities, ACC claimants, victims of abuse, Māori and Pasifika comunities, migrants, refugees, the deaf and hearing-impaired and others. Most recently, we have funded a new project that may help enrich the lives of the many thousands of New Zealanders with disabilities or other issues that create access difficulties for them.

photo of a woman in a wheelchair entering a lift
Photo by Sozialhelden CC-By

Law Foundation funding will allow a broad group of organisations that help people with disabilities to better understand best practice in international disability law and how it might be applied in New Zealand.

The project was organised by the Blind Foundation for the Access Alliance, which includes six other organisations representing people with access needs: Auckland Disability Law, CCS Disability Action, Deaf Aotearoa, Disabled Person’s Assembly, Parents of Vision Impaired New Zealanders and Inclusive New Zealand. Collectively, the organisations help 156,000 disabled New Zealanders.

The project will review relevant law and social outcomes in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. The Access Alliance has contracted the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) to undertake this work.

Chris Shelton of the Blind Foundation says the study will look beyond traditional disability access laws covering matters like building regulations.

“There is a baseline of stuff that has been done, but that’s no longer adequate. Better access would mean people with disabilities can achieve greater independence.”

There are problems with inadequate enforcement of existing law, Mr Shelton says. For example, transport standards stipulating how roads should be laid out to help visually-impaired people avoid accidents are not always adopted by local authorities.

The Access Alliance has done statistical research showing that income, education and employment rates for people with disabilities have not improved relative to the mainstream population over the past 17 years.

Other countries have created specific laws and regulations for people with disability – for example, Canada requires all companies employing more than 50 people to have an accessibility plan, giving legally enforceable rights to those workers.

Improvements to access law would help a wide range of New Zealanders, Mr Shelton says. “It’s not just disability – these standards tend to benefit everybody who has an access need, for whatever reason.”

The research is expected to be completed by the end of October and will then feed into a wider public campaign to change disability access law.

Separately, the Law Foundation is also funding a conference on disability issues involving leading New Zealand and overseas experts. A key theme of the Disability Matters conference in Dunedin in November will be “Making the Convention Real,” referring to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The conference will be hosted by the University of Otago, Otago Polytechnic and disability sector professionals.


Lynda Hagen lynda@lawfoundation.org.nz is Executive Director of the New Zealand Law Foundation. Further information about research funded by the Foundation can be found at lawfoundation.org.nz

Last updated on the 6th October 2017