Disabled Kiwis call for more support in case New Zealand re-enters Covid-19 lockdown

With Covid-19 back in the community, disabled Kiwis are calling for more support in case the nation goes into lockdown again.

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A comprehensive review found many struggled to access vital services. Source: 1 NEWS

A report by the Independent Monitoring Mechanism has found many disabled people struggled to access vital goods and services during last year’s lockdown, and there was a lack of consultation.

Deaf Wellingtonian Anton Sammons lives with his partner Erica Dawson, who is also deaf, in rural Upper Hutt.

Sammons says while being able to watch the 1pm briefings with live sign language interpretation made him feel at ease, there were other things the family struggled with like getting groceries.

“We can order online deliveries usually but that wasn't happening during lockdown… Smaller shops like butcheries were happy to deliver but supermarkets weren’t. It wasn't quite clear how I could access a priority queue so we could order online.”

Going into the supermarket in person was also a challenge.

“We'd have to have masks on which added an extra barrier to communication. We couldn’t lip read people who were wearing masks…Any announcements that people made over the PA we couldn't access, if they were making any we wouldn’t know, so it was quite a tense situation."

The report found other disabled Kiwis around the country struggled with food access, as well as access to home care and transport.

It found some disabled people went without home care during Level 4, and community care workers who were able to work often struggled to access PPE “leading to unsafe practices, sudden changes in staff, or cancellations”.

The Total Mobility Scheme, which provides subsidised transport for disabled people, was fully funded during Level 4 but many people, including Sammons - who doesn’t drive - didn’t know about the scheme.

“In real time we could have access to information through the interpreter next to the Prime Minister but the more detailed information wasn't in accessible formats. We would only get information like the Total Mobility Scheme several weeks later when it wasn't relevant anymore.”

Disabled Persons assembly chief executive Prudence Walker says the shortfalls highlight the lack of consultation with the community.

“It really highlighted that we don't design systems for disabled people, for all people,” she said.

“There are a number of groups in our community which are already marginalised and experience inequities, and in a pandemic, or indeed any emergency situation, those are only highlighted and new issues added to it.”

Ombudsman Peter Boshier says the Government “made a real effort” to cater to disabled New Zealanders during lockdown, but there are some things that could be done better next time.

“For example, for blind people the provision of material informing them, particularly with braille, was slow.”

He says he’d like to see the Government commit to fully funding the Total Mobility Scheme on a permanent basis.

“It really would not have cost much on the scale of things to have helped disabled people a bit more and a bit longer.”

The report, compiled in partnership with the ombudsman, the Disabled People’s Organisations Coalition and the Human Rights Commission has made 24 recommendations including creating contractual obligations for the provision of home care, developing priority queue regulations for retailers and more consultation with the community, particularly with Māori.

Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni says agencies are working on issues raised in the report.

“The lockdown was vital to eliminate the Covid-19 virus in New Zealand, nevertheless [the report] highlighted how important it is that we get this work right.

“We will take what we have learned from Covid-19 during 2020 to ensure that disabled people have the supports they have a right to expect.”

Sammons says learning from disabled people’s experiences is key to getting the response right next time.

“The mainstay for disabled Kiwis is ‘nothing about us without us'.

"We need to be included in the whole process. We need to give advice throughout the whole process. We don't know if the Government listens or things get lost in translation, so that can be a bit of a sticking point.”