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Joining forces to highlight barriers placed in front of significant portion of workforce

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Two major New Zealand organisations supporting disabled Kiwis are joining forces to highlight barriers placed in front of a significant portion of the country’s workforce.

That discrimination can come in many ways.

Sometimes it is couched in good intentions.

A Good Sorts episode broadcast on TV One on Sunday, July 25, highlighted the commendable efforts of Alison Jones, a blind woman who has set up a Dunedin walking group.

It was a largely positive piece but the show’s producers stated that Alison was unable to work because she was blind.

Both Workbridge, an organisation that helps disabled Kiwis find work, and Blind Low Vision NZ (BLVNZ, formerly the Blind Foundation) say that is wrong, and discriminates against others.

Blind people can and do work, says Workbridge chief executive Jonathan Mosen, who is himself blind and hearing impaired but runs an organisation with about 115 staff.

"I’m disappointed that a One News reporter would state as a matter of fact that a blind person can’t work simply by virtue of being blind," he said.

"It demonstrates once again that one of the biggest barriers disabled people face is the often incorrect perceptions other people have."

A 2018 survey by BLVNZ showed that one-third of New Zealand’s 180,000-strong blind and low-vision community worked full-time.

Many more are keen to work.

Close to 140 people around the country, with blindness or low-vision as a disability, were being helped by Workbridge into employment.

But over 60 per cent of those who responded to the survey said the attitude of employers was the biggest barrier, with half claiming they were not hired because of their sight loss.

"The unemployment rate of disabled people is far higher than that of the general population, in no small part because of ill-informed views such as those expressed by the One News reporter."

Mosen said that discrimination was coming at a cost, "in an era where there is a labour shortage in certain industries".

BLVNZ chief executive John Mulka said Alison’s message was a positive one but the show’s comments were "incredibly damaging to the disabled community and simply not accurate or reflective of the many New Zealanders with a disability who work in a variety of fields and careers across the country".

Like Workbridge, BLVNZ provided "a number of employment readiness services to our members and work closely with other disability ensure that people who are blind, deafblind or have low vision are independent and continue to live the life they choose".

The programme showed Alison struggling with hot drinks and other tasks.

Mulka said BLVNZ helped people around the home with daily living skills, "for instance while making hot beverages to ensure that they can complete this independently and in a safe manner".

Both Mosen and Mulka were seeking an apology from TVNZ for the inaccuracy, which they believe had breached broadcasting standards.

Both Jonathan Mosen and John Mulka would be happy to comment on this story, and provide lived experience as a working life with a disability. If you’d like to speak with Jonathan, contact Workbridge Communications Manager Rob Mitchell on 022 458 6822. To speak with John, please get in touch with BLNZ Head of Marketing and Communications Laura Skerritt on 022 013 0886.

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