“It’s time for legislation”. This was the resounding message that Dianne Rogers, the Campaign Coordinator of the Access Alliance, shared at the #ActionLaw2020 Action Forum. Rogers put voice to a shared desire among various businesses, organisations and community groups the Access Alliance met with. The purpose was to discuss how they could implement accessibility for those with access needs.
My name is Ite Lemalu, I am a person with low vision and have been since early childhood. As a lifelong member of the Blind & Low Vision NZ, many of its services have been crucial to my independence and have enabled me to fulfil my academic goals. During the Action Forum, I was privileged to meet and talk with several of the supporters. Many with different accessibility needs were in attendance and had the opportunity to talk about their experiences, some of which were disheartening. Sadly, they all shared a common theme of having to face and overcome daily barriers due to their accessibility needs.
Dianne Rogers spoke about the Access Alliance’s work since November 2018, when Minister Carmel Sepuloni (on behalf of the government) announced her commitment towards a programme that looked at accelerating accessibility in New Zealand. Rogers also focused on where the campaign was at presently, noting that while the Access Alliance are in discussions with Minister Sepuloni to help shape the accessibility bill, the objective of the forum was to encourage supporters to reach out to Minister Sepuloni and local MP’s. To remind them about the urgency of the accessibility bill – legislation that has been campaigned since February 2017.
Two workshops were set up to show supporters various ways to make contact with a local MP, via social media and face to face meetings. Both digital and traditional approaches were very insightful in showing effective strategies that would give the accessibility bill continued momentum and visibility.
The accessibility bill is incredibly significant. It could open the way for schools, universities and workplaces to adopt a universal design, whereby their buildings, environments, products and services are designed in such a way that is inclusive of those with disabilities. For example, the availability of ramps and well-designed spaces for wheelchairs; the option to learn sign language to help communicate with peers and colleagues who are hard of hearing; audio descriptive technology for the low vision are just some things that can be put in place in moving towards an accessible society. Bringing down existing barriers has the potential for huge economic benefits. Dianne Rogers noted that Minister Sepuloni is fully committed to pushing the bill. However, to help ensure that there will be an accessible Aotearoa, we need to continue to remind our local leaders that accessibility should be at the heart of a thriving nation. That surely, it is a human right for anyone with a disability to be given the chance and the tools to live life without being hindered by the simple things that many take for granted.