When a fire alarm sounded after a Green Party meeting, New Zealand's first profoundly deaf MP, Mojo Mathers, thought her colleagues were just hurrying back to their offices.
It wasn't until someone grabbed the lip-reading MP and told her, that she realised people were rushing outside because sirens were sounding.
It was a wake-up call for her and the Greens - a special visual alarm was installed in her office soon afterwards.
It is Deaf Awareness Week and Ms Mathers says changes in building compliances could result in fewer property developers and owners installing visual fire alarms for the hearing-impaired.
Under new regulations that came into effect in April, developers and owners now "opt in" to installing visual alarm systems rather than "opt out" if people with disabilities will not be working in the building.
Ms Mathers says she was only aware of the changes when a concerned fire service employee contacted her.
The change in emphasis was a change backwards, she said.
"The risk is that many buildings will not be compliant in providing appropriate alarms for hearing loss."
Health and safety was already a major barrier to employment for deaf people because prospective employers sited additional costs for hiring the hearing impaired. It was cheaper for visual systems to be installed when standard fire alarms were put in rather than retro-fitting.
Ms Mathers said she was also disappointed the final changes did not include a proposal to require visual alarms if hearing-impaired people used a building.
"Hearing-impaired family of people who are employed there may visit the building, or there may be hearing-impaired cleaners."
In a statement, the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry said the Building Code had not changed and building owners were required to install appropriate means of warning people, including those with disabilities, of fires and other emergencies.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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