I have a very good and dear friend who the New Zealand government recognises as having a disability.
He is 41 years old and lives with his ageing parents. The primary carers are transitioning from a supporting and role to one where they will in all probability become consumers, no longer ‘free of cost’ providers.
My friend's dream is to live independently in a place he can call his own in a community where he feels safe and is accepted for who he is. He is gentle. He is kind. He would love to have a job, but the disability acts as a brick wall that prevents him from getting one because of discrimination and ignorance, or the inability to add value to an employer in the short term. Or he would love to use his skill set effectively to run a competitive business and make money in the manner that the government expects.
My friend is one of many in New Zealand – so who becomes “loco parentis” (a legal term for “in place of the parent”)? Government is the maker of law and as such is responsible to ensure that just laws are in place and adhered to, including adherence to the Human Rights Act.
A situation under the law has developed where IHC (formerly the Intellectually Handicapped Children’s charity) is being encouraged to purchase ex-state housing, and presumably the land that goes with it. IHC is a ‘not for profit’ entity, but somehow it is expected to generate income in order to provide a worthwhile and essential service.
This strategy makes sense if you are out to make a profit from those who have disabilities. Has the government got shoulders like a Coke bottle, where the accumulated wealth trickles down and around into the pockets of property developers – or square shoulders that are prepared to carry and share the load?
Disabilities are not confined to the intellect and to children alone. They cover a very broad base among (and within an even broader base within) communities, so there is a collective responsibility that must not focus on profit alone – which current policies appear to do.
In any case, the provision of money is not enough. A workforce across a broad spectrum will be required. Building standards must be complied with, and spaces made healthy and energy-efficient.
Smarter systems can become our best resource, to marshal great ideas, material resources and skills, including the skills that many people with disabilities have now or may discover.
The best societies are those that are prepared to generate a positive attitude towards the challenges of the day and overcome them. As Abraham Lincoln said at the Gettysburg address, “The methods and policies of the past are no longer appropriate for the future. We must think anew. We must act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves.”
This is something the government of New Zealand, which means all of us in a true democracy, must take heed.