Access essential for people with disabilities

Issue: Volume 99, Number 3

Posted: 27 February 2020
Reference #: 1HA5yJ

Inaccessibility has been identified as a major barrier to accessing essential education, often resulting in poor academic progress and limited opportunities to make positive social connections.

Joshua Fuimaono of the Yes Disability Resource Centre attended the Kōrero Mātauranga Education Summit in 2018 and his experience there inspired him and his peers to take a similar approach in organizing the I.Lead conference, held in Wellington last September. 

The conference was a forum for about 50 young people with disabilities from across Aotearoa to come together to discuss the issues and barriers they face. Their goal was to seek potential solutions to tackle these issues as well as change the way in which disability and the voices of youth with disabilities are heard.

Statistics New Zealand confirms that for the quarter ending June 2019, just 25.9 percent of disabled young people between the ages of 15 -24 were in employment compared to 57.8 percent of non-disabled people.

They voiced issues and concerns on several focus themes such as health, transport, housing and education.  They were then tasked with presenting these findings to people from the Ministry of Education, the New Zealand Disability Rights Commissioner and other government agencies.

Barriers to accessing education

Much of the discussion about education revolved around the prevalence of physically inaccessible places in our schools and other educational facilities.

Inaccessibility was seen as a major barrier to accessing essential education, often resulting in poor academic progress and limited opportunities to make positive social connections with similar peers their own age. Truancy and early drop-out of school are sadly common symptoms for children and young people with disabilities.

Youth facilitator Lavinia (22) spoke of how she had to have a lot of her NCEA classes on the first floor with students two years above her year level, because there was no access for her wheelchair to get to her original classes and friends on the second floor of her school. 

Tamara (19) spoke of how she wasn’t receiving any support due to staff and teachers not knowing how to cater to people on the Autism Spectrum, usually labelling her as ‘normal’ because she doesn’t outwardly look as if she has a disability at all.

There were also discussions around other inaccessible aspects of school life with supports and services being either minimal or non-existent, teachers and staff not being as open-minded or educated on the needs of disabled students, and the education system itself not catering to the needs of students with diverse needs.

Those who fell through the cracks of the current system found it was hard to recover, especially with a disability. 

Finding a way forward

Recommendations about education, employment, housing, health, the media and sport and recreation were presented to senior officials from government agencies.  These aim to not only remedy past gaps pitfalls and inconsistencies, but also future-proof education and other systems so they continue to remain accessible and inclusive for future generations of disabled and non-disabled alike. 

One of the propositions the young people put forward was to implement a national youth advisory group consisting of disabled young people from across the country, to work in conjunction with the Ministry of Education to help implement the recommendations presented at the conference. 

Recommendations for a more accessible Aotearoa

We expect the kōrero from the conference will help inform changes in education as well as inform many official documents and reports aligning with the United Nations Convention.  

This was not only a platform for our young people’s voices, but for the emergence of new leaders in our communities and around the world who are passionate about making change

I.Lead was a co-creative concept formed by a group of young people with disabilities from YES Disability Resource Centre, and supported by the Minister of Disability Hon. Carmel Sepuloni and Office of Disability Issues and supported by the Ministry of Education and other agencies.

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:40 pm, 27 February 2020

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