I have been denied access to an appropriate benefit from the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) because of my disabilities. MSD treats people with disabilities the same way they treat abled people. That is, MSD will provide as little financial assistance as they can get away with. The underlying rationale being, if beneficiaries are denied a livable benefit, then they will have to accept any form of employment in order to make ends meet
There are many beneficiaries with disabilities who aren't able to work, including myself. This fact doesn't enter into MSD thinking. And no matter how much hardship MSD places us in, we still aren't able to work. MSD refuses to acknowledge that there are people needing financial assistance who would love to work but aren't able to.
By denying people with disabilities a reasonable benefit, MSD is not only breaking their own obligations under the Social Security Act 2018, but they are also flagrantly denying their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). MSD can do this because there is no independent body with the appropriate authority to hold them to account.
My disabilities, amongst other issues, include Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and brain damage in general. My ability to comprehend information is severely compromised and massively exacerbated by stress, as well as other negative stimuli, such as noise and other distractions. These conditions all exist at MSD offices due to their preferred choice of design - open plan office layouts. In addition, the use of commercial lighting brings on migraines and my inability to tolerate any Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) - such as perfumes, fragrances, cleaning chemicals, etc, all of which are continually recirculated through the 'air-conditioning' system - make any visit to an MSD office absolutely brutal!
Add up all the above mentioned stress into the mix - with staff who don't want to hear you, and don't want to assist you, and try to as unhelpful as possible - then it's no big surprise that I end up in tears again and again after each appointment. It is no understatement to say that I now also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of the continual abuse I have had to endure from MSD. It will probably come as no surprise that I prefer to live in a vehicle rather than deal with the chronic abuse and stress I have had to endure from MSD. The fact that I have been living in a vehicle, for 20 years, reflects poorly on a system that just doesn't care.
The new accessibility act needs to look beyond the narrow scope of physical and/or sensory disabilities - such as having low vision or being hearing impaired - and consider the broader definition of disability as outlined in the UNCRPD.
This is a story about the barriers many face. We're sharing it because we want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.