The Access Alliance is campaigning for the introduction of an Accessibility for New Zealanders Act. We believe the below principles should form the core of the Act.
1) The Act applies to all:
a) The Act will cover all New Zealanders that face temporary or permanent impairment and/or barriers that limit their access to fundamental needs. Impairments can be physical, sensory, cognitive, communication or mental health related and include visible, invisible, permanent or episodic conditions.
b) The Act will apply to all government departments, crown corporations, companies, organisations and any other entity that is regulated by statute. These are the obligated parties.
2) The Act sets a timeline:
The goal of the Accessibility for New Zealanders Act is to greatly improve the accessibility of New Zealand within a specific and clearly defined deadline set by the legislation. This timeline will begin immediately upon the Act passing into law and will include checkpoints at regular intervals until existing and on-going access barriers are removed. This is the principle of progressive realisation.
3) The Act sets the bar:
The Accessibility for New Zealanders Act will build on all other disability and human rights legislation, regulations or policies which provide lesser protections or entitlements to those with a temporary or permanent impairment. It will protect and build rights that have already been earned.
4) The Act provides accessibility in all areas of life:
The Act will require all obligated parties to become fully accessible over time. This means providing accessibility in all areas where impairment intersects with the organisation. It means removing existing obstacles and preventing the creation of new obstacles. These obstacles may include, but are not limited to, physical, legal, information, communication, attitudinal, technological or other barriers. (Note: standards will provide for compliance thresholds.)
5) The Act sets policy:
The Accessibility for New Zealanders Act will influence and affect the development and implementation of public accessibility policy, thereby enhancing and improving access to a full range of goods, services and programmes not currently available to persons with temporary or permanent impairment, difference, or disability in New Zealand.
6) The Act champions access to all goods, services and facilities:
The Act will require all obligated parties to ensure that their services and facilities are fully accessible, based on principles of universal design and the provision of reasonable accommodations. Obligated parties will be required to develop and implement detailed plans to ensure accessibility within their organisations. Accessibility will be part of a ‘business as usual’ approach.
7) The act champions accessible workplaces, employment, education, and government agencies:
The Act will require organisations to take proactive steps to provide obstacle-free workplaces and provide changes that will accommodate people in their employment, including for job opportunities. Employers will be required to develop and implement plans to remove existing workplace and employment obstacles and to prevent new ones from being put in place. Education providers will ensure that places of study and all study resources are fully accessible. The same will apply to the Justice sector where accessibility is often a barrier to successfully navigating, and where neurodiversity is not often visible and therefore not taken into account.
8) The Act will charge government with the responsibility to lead, educate, train, inform and review:
The Act will require government to lead the country toward achieving the goals of the Act and fulfilling its mandate. The Act will require government to provide education, information and resources to assist regulated businesses and organisations to comply with the access requirements. The government will be required to appoint an independent person to periodically review and publicly report (at regular intervals) on progress towards the goal of full accessibility.
9) The Act is enforceable:
The Act will provide for a prompt, independent and effective process for enforcement. This will include a comprehensive and clearly defined avenue for New Zealanders who encounter obstacles which are in violation of the legislation to raise and submit complaints to enforcement officials.
10) The Act is made real through regulations:
The government will be required to make regulations that clearly define the steps needed for full compliance under the Act, and it will be independently reviewed at a minimum of every four years. It will be open to recommendations made on an industry-by-industry or sector-by-sector basis. This will include a requirement that input be obtained from persons with disabilities and impairment, and the organisations supporting them as part of these reviews.
11) The Act will ensure public funds are not used to create or perpetuate obstacles to full accessibility in all areas of life:
The Act will require that the government ensures that no public money is used to create or perpetuate inaccessibility. Under the Act, Government departments, agencies, and crown corporations will make it a strict condition of funding and finance for programmes, transfer payments, subsidies, loans, grants, capital or infrastructure projects that no such funds may be used to create or perpetuate access obstacles. This would extend to the procurement of goods, services or facilities being fully accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities or impairment. The government should be required to monitor and enforce these requirements and to periodically report to the public on compliance with them.
12) The Act is a lens through which to vet legislation:
The Act will require the government to review existing legislation and regulations identifying possible accessibility obstacles, and develop timelines to address the shortcomings. The government will review all future proposed legislation and regulations before they are enacted to ensure accessibility obstacles are not about to be created.
13) The Act has real force and real effect:
The Act must be more than mere window dressing. It’s all about contributing meaningfully to the improvement of the position of persons with temporary or permanent impairment, difference, or disability in New Zealand, enabling them to fully participate and to enjoy community life. It must be underpinned by effective enforcement mechanisms which lead to real effect.