On Friday 29 October, the Government announced significant changes to the disability system by unveiling plans to create the Ministry for Disabled People, which will be an independent Ministry with its own Chief Executive, hosted by the Ministry for Social Development.

Hon Carmel Sepuloni, Minister for Disability Issues also announced a national roll out for Enabling Good Lives – a partnership between the disability sector and government agencies to ensure that disabled people receive greater choice and control over their lives. It is currently only available to groups of disabled people in certain parts of New Zealand so the move to nationwide coverage is welcomed.

“An estimated half a million New Zealanders experience access barriers as family caregivers. So even when you just add that group to the one in four Kiwis with a disability, you get a sense of how big this opportunity is.” John Mulka, Chief Executive, Blind Low Vision NZ, says. “Accessibility is about navigating more than just physical environments. It’s also about access to services like public transport, entertainment, banking, information and communication.”

Blind Low Vision NZ are hopeful about the announcement today and commend the Government for bringing the accessibility bill forward to be introduced in July 2022.

Mulka says “We hope that the policy and the drafting instructions for the bill will result in a bill that creates an accessible, inclusive and barrier free Aotearoa New Zealand for all New Zealanders.”

Getting this legislation right has huge potential for addressing inequality, social cohesion and economic growth, but the consequences of getting it wrong will take decades to unwind. Ideally, the legislation framework we want has five key ingredients. Accessibility legislation is one of them. The legislation will work alongside standards, an independent regulator, a notification and barrier identification process and dispute resolution process. The “Making New Zealand Accessible, a design for effective accessibility legislation” report funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation proposes one way this could be achieved.

As our population grows and people live longer, the impact of accessibility barriers will only increase. We cannot afford to let barriers in the built and digital world prevent people from participating fully and equally in society.

Every day disabled people, their whānau, seniors and other New Zealanders with access needs have disabling experiences. We urge the Government to bring business, disabled persons, seniors and others with access needs to the table now so that they can work in partnership to shape the best accessibility legislations for Aotearoa New Zealand.