The HRMI rights tracker paints a sobering but not unsurprising picture of the grim realities facing families with a disabled family member. Parent members of Parents of Vision Impaired NZ (PVI) have, over the past three decades, constantly advocated for the right of their vision impaired child to a fully inclusive and accessible education, to accessible housing, to health, and, as their child ages into adulthood, the right to accessible workplaces and meaningful paid work.
PVI parents such as Glenn and Fran Marshall have brought cases to the Human Rights Tribunal in an attempt to hold government agencies and their services to account for their violation of disabled children’s rights. Unfortunately, these individual cases have yet to result in any significant change to the way in which the rights of blind and low vision children are upheld across the board.
PVI National Executive Officer, Dr Rebekah Graham, comments on the sobering findings of the HRMI: “Here in New Zealand we like to think that we provide equal opportunity for all, but what these results tell is that we have a very long way to go for our children to make that happen for them. It is unsurprising to me to see education, health, housing, and employment as key challenges faced by people with disabilities and match the same issues parents of a vision-impaired child have spoken to me about.”
“For example, parents have faced delays of up to five years for property modifications, difficulties with accessing appropriate and timely support, can find it hard to source and learn to use assistive technology, and sometimes face a lack of understanding by mainstream educators with regards to visual fatigue and how it presents in children. It is really tough on our parents having to constantly advocate for their child to get even their basic health and education needs met, and this takes its toll on parent’s well-being as well. I had a parent say to me, that it wasn’t until their child left school that they sat back and realised what a horrible, constant battle it had all been, how stressful it all was, and the effect it had on the entire family.”
As far back as 2018, PVI Board member Nikki Stokes spoke about the challenges she has faced – and still faces – in attempting to find accessible housing for her daughter. Nikki comments “I was advised to continue looking for private housing and to keep my daughter’s disability a secret to prevent any discomfort from potential landlords. The wait time for social housing would be months, perhaps years, and emergency housing providers would unlikely be able or willing to accommodate a family with our requirements.” Advising a parent to lie in order to secure some form of housing is a breach of their rights and should not be happening here in New Zealand today.
It is unsurprising to PVI members that both education and work are high on the at-risk of being violated list. Parents of older vision-impaired are deeply concerned about the absence of accessible employment and training opportunities for their blind or low vision young person: “Secondary school ends and there’s just this big empty hole. Where do our young people transition to?” one parent asked. Another noted “Even the simplest of concessions are put in the too hard basket and it’s our young people who are excluded from work before they’ve even had a chance to embark on any sort of career.”
These comments and concerns are consistent with previous reports regarding services for Blind and Low Vision people in New Zealand. The 2015 Litmus Limited report “Stocktake and Needs Analysis of Low Vision Services in New Zealand” identified that there is no standard or comprehensive package of services for New Zealanders with low vision and that services vary, depending on the person’s age and where they live. Similarly, the Statistics NZ 2013 Disability Survey data noted that there is “a significant unmet need and services [for blind and low vision adults] are inadequate…People in need of low vision services who identify as Māori…and/or who live in provincial and rural areas are not receiving adequate services currently. Low vision services in New Zealand are therefore inequitable and inadequate to meet the needs of people with low vision” (p.6).
Graham comments: “There have been enough reports. What we need is action on accessibility for all legislation and for specific, dedicated deadlines for improving the right to education, health, housing and work for all vision-impaired persons.”