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Govt decision barrier to employment for disabled people - CCS

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

As the Government prepares to walk away from current legislation requiring property owners to upgrade buildings so they are accessible, a disability rights organisation warns the decision could lead to far fewer employment opportunities for disabled New Zealanders.

CCS Disability Action Chief Executive, David Matthews, says it appears those looking at changes to building requirements under the proposed Earthquake Strengthening Bill will ignore the needs of disabled New Zealanders in favour of the more fortunate property owner.

"Employment is difficult enough to obtain for many disabled people, but the current requirements that public buildings must be accessible, has been one less barrier for a number of people in terms of gaining work. The move to allow an exemption to property owners gives them the right to legally ignore accessibility issues. This could result in some disabled people’s work options being even more limited than they are now. If you can’t get a wheelchair into a building - how can you work there, and why would someone hire you?"

"We are all for the strengthening of buildings to ensure everyone is safe. However, making sure buildings remain accessible, or are accessible as part of the build, is not as cost prohibitive as it is being made out to be portrayed by property owners."

"Currently, when major work is done to a public building, it must be brought up to code on accessibility. This has been a requirement since 1975. Yet, in 2015 we are taking a step backward in terms of giving everyone the right to access their community."

Mr Matthews said CCS Disability Action believed substantial work, like earthquake strengthening, should be a trigger for improvement in access. "Unfortunately, intense lobbying by building owners has seen both the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission and the Local Government and Environment Select Committee buckle and agree to the exemption from the access requirements for buildings being earthquake strengthened. The sad truth is that property owners appear to have more clout with Government than the disability community."

He said he did not believe that the Royal Commission or the Select Committee had any solid evidence that accessibility was a significant cost or barrier to earthquake strengthening.

"In fact, in most of the submissions I have seen building owners had a limited understanding of the current Law, particularly the current reasonability test. There is already a reasonability test for building owners upgrading their buildings. Property owners only have to upgrade access as far as is reasonable cost-wise. We also asked the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment what evidence they had about access costs being a significant problem. They had nothing beyond submissions from building owners."

Mr Matthews was clear that this exemption would be widely used by property owners to avoid having to provide access to all citizens.

"My belief is owners would only be lobbying government if they were planning to make heavy use of the exemption. Decades from now, hundreds, if not thousands, of public buildings will be or continue to be off-limits to people with access needs. This will affect their ability to work and live the same kind of life as other New Zealanders. In short, the exemption contributes to ongoing discrimination."

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