Abuse towards disabled Kiwis reaches ‘epidemic proportions’

Laura James
Source: 1News

Violence and abuse towards disabled Kiwis has reached "epidemic proportions" and it's a human rights failure, according to the Disability Rights Commissioner.

Two new Human Rights Commission reports have highlighted the issue, and outline a raft of recommendations for systemic change.

"I hope that by releasing these reports today, people have become aware of the serious set of issues facing disabled people,” Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said.

She says disabled people experience twice the level of violence than non-disabled people.

But according to IHC's Director of Advocacy Trish Grant, that statistic may be a conservative.

"Some reports internationally say 100 per cent of people with learning and intellectual disability will have experienced violence, abuse and neglect,” she said.

Grant said it can be perpetrated by carers, family or people in the community.

Abuse and violence towards disabled people can look similar to that for non-disabled people, but Tesoriero said there are also forms that are quite specific.

"Things like not allowing access to mobility aids, removing or withholding medication, not allowing people to be hygienic and clean by not supporting them in their everyday cares."

"It's as simple as something like denying access to a building because you've got a service dog, or it could be as blatant as someone hitting you because you look different,” Disability Rights advocate Dr Huhana Hickey said,

There’re calls for urgent action to implement the 20 recommendations made in the reports.

They advise prioritising rangatiratanga, partnering with whānau, hapu and iwi to strengthen collective and kāupapa Māori approaches, and greater support for children – embedding disability rights in agencies, more training, and continuous improvement.

"We need to make sure our mainstream services that cater for violence and abuse are accessible for disabled people and we need bespoke services including an integrated approach to safeguarding adults at risk for disabled people,” Tesoriero said.

She added changes need to implemented and lead by disabled people and tāngata whaikaha Māori.

The reports make a special mention of the additional risks faced by disabled Māori.

Tesoriero told 1News that while the abuse of all disabled people's been "hidden in plain sight", that "the interception between disability and indigeneity has been even more invisible".

Ruth Jones, co-director of Kanohi ki te Kanohi, said she was “proud to be Maori, I'm proud to be disabled”.

“I know that both of those things - not because of the whakapapa or the disability, but the response to those - cause us harm, discrimination and marginalisation."

The reports call for action to be grounded in Te Tiriti o Waitangi and in a human rights.

The Government will announce a new national strategy to eliminate family and sexual violence next Tuesday.

Minister Marama Davidson acknowledged that disabled Kiwis have been let down in the space for far too long.

"When people put their hand up for help, disabled people have not been able to access services, there has not been specialised family violence and sexual violence services for disabled people, that has to change, that is part of the system change.

"The strategy will centre and properly resource disabled people to lead the solutions."

It's hoped the soon to be established Ministry of Disabled People will also help lead to change.

With that is the opportunity to have enforceability, because the recommendations are great,” Hickey said.

"These two reports create a huge basis for change and I mihi for that change to be really quick,” Jones said.