Disability advocate, Australian Richard Llewellyn’s brief report on observations during a trip to the North Island for the Disabled Peoples Assembly 3rd National Assembly in Wellington

June 1985

Invitation to an Australian with disabilities to find out about New Zealand

It is easy for island dwellers in both Australia and New Zealand to get so wrapped up in the way things are in our separate island countries, to conveniently lose sight of the fact that we have a great deal which could be learned and shared beneficially in each direction.

A letter inviting one to attend the Disabled Persons Assembly – New Zealand 3rd National Assembly in Wellington, NZ prodded my curiosity enough to make the necessary plans and preparations for a two-week learning experience on the North Island of New Zealand. As a part holiday with my family, I found it a beautiful, stimulating and friendly country that is at such an interesting stage.

A few notes on travelling

NZ seems halfway there with its access provisions for tourists with disabilities. Tourist sites themselves were generally quite accessible and the only problem with eating was to limit yourself from overeating fresh wholesome food!

There were some access guides available and specialist information though the Teletext information system (more later), but that has some holes in it. Maybe disabled people aren’t making these systems work for them as they go.

Unisex toilets seemed rare, but there has been a lot of work done widening cubicles etc. in single sex bathrooms. The lack of a unisex facility at the Auckland International Airport is an obvious oversight.
Hotels seem eager to please visitors with disabilities and were extremely helpful. Their national building code tended to work against these intentions, with virtually every door to the toilet too narrow for my standard push wheelchair.

Transport worked well for us with a hired car, augmented in city areas by the local Total Mobility maxi taxi services. This project was initially started by a New Zealander seeing the NSW maxi taxis in operation and buying two Australian vans to start their services. Disabled Persons Assembly – New Zealand subsidise their members use of these taxis with a 25% discount voucher system.

New Zealand’s Unique Disabled Persons Assembly Model

There was much food for thought to Australians watching the effect of how the self-help disability movement had joined with its service providers to form the DPA-NZ. They took a different path in the post IYDP era than Australia, putting all their efforts into creating a united organisation of service providers, health professionals and consumers which not only makes policy but carries out projects and ongoing services in local communities.

DPI Australia formed after IYDP with the aim of strengthening and focusing the voice of individuals with disabilities and their self-help organisations. This development seemed so long overdue on a national level that there was no equivalent momentum in Australia to work towards this larger amalgamation which the New Zealanders actually have achieved.

History will judge these two models in time. Both have their strengths and weaknesses and it is really too early in their evolution to pass definitive judgements.

So, it was with a great deal of curiosity and interest that I observed DPA in action as I travelled through various cities on the way to Wellington.

Hamilton Disabled Persons Centre

Hamilton, a city of approximately 100,000 people, with a heavy emphasis on disabled staff members actively seeking out solutions for local requirements. Their centre was the hub for a specialised transport system, a craft and rehabilitation centre started in response to local needs, a community resource referral worker, a small aids and gardening display, local connection to the national disability information network, via Teletext and Videotext, and many more things. The atmosphere was homey, non-threatening and busy.

I also visited places called “information and aid centres” with varying styles, atmospheres, authorising structures, etc. which was quite confusing. What we might call an Independent Living Centre, with an occupational therapist in charge and an aids display focus, might be called a Disabled Persons Centre but also incorporate craft co-ops, various therapy programs, taped book libraries, wheelchair hire, etc.

Palmerston North regional services

In Palmerston North, another system for information and technical aids runs, parallel to many DPA facilities. Where I had felt NZ would show more coordination in this field, I was disappointed to find that there was no current solution to the question of amalgamation or linkage of various regional centres and that the old problems of jealousies, empires and turfs were allowing duplication, waste and non-coordination to prevail.

New Zealand has a quite different geographical distribution of people covering the country in smaller towns, unlike our major coastal capitals and fewer in rural Australia. Services of disabled people seems already much more regionalised. I wonder if we will see this type of small consumer networking expand in Australia through changes coming from the HP Review Report of existing services and needs for change or possibly through more grassroots action by people with disabilities themselves at the community level.

3rd National Disabled Persons Assembly – May 1985

The 3rd National Disabled Persons Assembly (Wellington, May 18-19, 1985) was attended by 300 people with disabilities, organisational representatives and other DPA members. It was an exciting and diverse gathering, well-planned and executed to get maximum value from people’s presence.

The NZ Government is currently reviewing all its benefits, tax and budget areas, a parallel development with the Australian Tax Summit and HP Review. The thrust of the DPA conference was toward classifying income and tax changes that will both assist people with disabilities with extra costs of disability and produce a more equitable system, freer of anomalies and disincentives.

The whole conference workshopped specific suggestions to contribute to national consultations on these crucial income and compensation issues in a very productive way. We were able to share some ideas and strategies from Australia but were basically challenged by the knowledgeable and constructive stance of DPA participants. They too were keen to avoid ‘negative’ labels such as in-valid, but also felt that even the word pension and benefit had charitable overtones they wished to avoid.

Some of the NZ suggestions were for a basic government payment to be called an entitlement, assurance or NZ adjustment, linking the social welfare and taxation systems together to distribute income. People with disabilities would be considered as individuals (avoiding the problem of dependent wife missing out) and receive payments according to specific needs and extra costs, circumstances or responsibilities, building in incentives for earning personal income, or being involved in education, training, or rehabilitation.

Later workshops which I attended worked through issues of information services, transport (Total Mobility), attendant care (NZ has similar pilot study to the NSW attendant care pilot and examining similar issues). DPA became heavily committed to both information and mobility schemes at its formation, partly in response to administering some of the funds raised in IYDP.

New Zealand, with a population of 3 million people, concentrated its major IYDP thrust on a Telethon, which raised a remarkable $7| million. DPA and many other organisations were recipients of some of this generosity and are using the capital and interest raising ability of this money to fund some of its service programs.

Total Mobility scheme

Total Mobility was an interesting blend of non-government and government was engineered by DPA to provide incentives to taxi companies throughout NZ to begin a disability transport scheme. Service providing organisations, local councils, volunteer groups can attract (!) funding to subsidise transport of disabled people.

Many special schools, workshops have dropped their fleets of buses and are re-channeling their transport dollars into this more normalising form of transport. The taxi industry seems pleased with the maxi taxi with hoist combinations but also use the voucher systems for ordinary cabs. DPA trains drivers initially in down-to-earth ways and they feel that has been crucial to the program’s initial success.

DPA are now evolving loan schemes for drivers to modify their vehicles, as well as continuing to subsidise by 25% the use of taxis by disabled people.

Teletext

All Australians with disabilities need to be aware of the developments in information technology which are about to occur. The NZ DPA leadership want to see NZ as a leader in information and technology. The committed a proportion of their funds to buying a large capacity of Teletext (a TV-based information service, which also has subtitle capacity for people with hearing-impairments.) 100 of the 230 “pages” offering at present have been set aside for the exclusive use of information about disability matters and DPA has a full-time project officer developing the content. The rest are subscribed to or sponsored by groups such as the Stock Exchange, Air New Zealand, TAB, etc.

DPA is offering incentives to its members to either rent or purchase the special decoder TV sets for Teletext, but so far this project is moving more slowly than some had hoped. It is going to require both more awareness building of the opportunities, the way to maximise participation through information usage and perhaps more specific targeting of information for this medium.

It is too early in the evolution of this technology to make pat conclusions, but I felt slightly uneasy in its non-mainstream construction. Hopefully, as technology improves, ideas such as this will be something that anyone can reach out for from their own home equipment.