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Disabled left on the margins

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 25/08/2014

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A political debate on disability policy poked holes in candidates' knowledge and left the organiser unimpressed with what the Waikato had on offer.

Helena Tuteao invited local candidates to the Hamilton headquarters of the Blind Foundation to unpack party policy but felt like an outsider after last week's discussion.

"At the end of all of this, I still don't feel convinced or valued as a disabled person within the political arena," Tuteao said.

Labour MP Sue Moroney left early with Hamilton East candidate Dr Cliff Allen filling in, and Green candidate Mark Servian and Internet Mana Party's Angeline Greensill both said they were not the experts.

People with disabilities made up more than 20 per cent of the country's population, Tuteao said, but were left on the margins in the political discussion.

"I'd suspect it is because we are not seen as a high economic contributor to society."

Issues like the width of doorways, transport, safe footpaths, jobs and discrimination of people who care for family members were hot topics put to budding parliamentarians.

National MP David Bennett was grilled over the Public Health and Disabilities Act and said he would have to get back to them with answers but said National policy would allow people to be more independent.

New Zealand First's Barbara Stewart said the disabled were the "forgotten people" in the community and the needs of the community were not being met.

Tuteao felt candidates were unprepared for the debate and left without giving clear answers.

"To be quite frank, I don't know how much homework the candidates actually did but I feel a lot of the responses were quite soft."

The able-bodied public were largely ignorant of the barriers faced by the disabled community and as the discussion continued, one member of the audience in a wheelchair struggled to close a door behind him after going to the disability approved toilet.

He re-adjusted his wheelchair three times before he was able to close the door.

Tuteao said access was just one of many barriers that needed addressing and central government had to be at the centre of reforms.

"Definitely, across the board, and the issue is government agencies are all working in their own silos and so it's really hard to reflect the journey with all of the agencies who are disconnected."

She felt the debate was more of an educational experience for the candidates and said elected members needed to take the lead and get to know the disabled community better.

"I think that politicians need to make more of an effort to engage with us rather than us trying to run around and collect them all into one place," she said.

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"It's fine them saying you need to come to us but there are barriers for this diverse community to be able to get to their office."

- Waikato Times

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