Twenty-five per cent of New Zealand’s population identify as having a disability but, writes 17-year-old Ayolabi Martins, not enough is being done in New Zealand to meet the needs of its disabled communities. 

As a Year 13 student in high school, I’m faced with the exhilarating opportunity of choosing a future career path before applying for a university that I feel will best aid me in achieving my career aspirations. 

Unfortunately, the choice for me isn’t so clear cut. 

I hate to say it, but my career choice solely depends on the accessibility of the universities I apply to. This is not an over-dramatisation of the truth - it’s unambiguously a major factor many disabled people must think about before applying to a tertiary institution.

Now, without naming and shaming certain organisations, it’s essentIal to note that terrain (particularly for wheelchair users) is a major determinant of a facility’s accessibility. 

Steep slopes, rocky and uneven surfaces can easily reduce the independence of a first-year university student who, coupled with a stressful workload faced by all students, now has to effectively and simultaneously manage transport in a dangerous environment which could ultimately see them miss lectures or worse - end up in hospital from a preventable wheelchair-related accident. 

In 2019, I became a member of the disabled community. This has opened my eyes to not only see and experience the constant marginalisation disabled people encounter on a daily basis but it’s also unshielded me from the fact that it’s hard to depend on and survive in a system that isn’t built to cater for your physical needs. 

One of the most pressing issues for wheelchair users today is the lack of frequently accessible and available public transportation. 

Of course, buses do exist and an increasing majority have one or two wheelchair areas (per bus) but knowing how often buses get cancelled or suddenly become unavailable for certain routes means it’s unreasonable to expect a wheelchair user to solely rely on public transport.

As for wheelchair accessible taxis, that’s another problem. 

On a short trip to Wellington, I unexpectedly had all nine of my wheelchair taxi trips cancelled (literally less than 12 hours before I was due to land) with the taxi agent claiming the services had all been booked out. 

This resulted in a taxi lottery where one of my teachers rang several mobility taxis to check availability with all but one declining. 

With wheelchair taxis proving almost impossible to book, I was practically stuck in my hotel throughout most of my trip.

With largely inadequate mobility transport options seen not only in Auckland, but also our capital city, it wouldn’t be surprising to discover the state of mobility transport worsens throughout other parts of the nation as well. 

The things implemented in New Zealand that aim to ensure “equitable access” for disabled people have only shown themselves to be political checkmarks to win the title ‘helper of the disabled’ that in a practical sense, have little to no real world impact. 

This is especially the case with the Accessibility Bill only working to establish a committee that has no legal powers but only provides recommendations to the minister for disabilities.

These will then be passed on to the House of Representatives as a “measure of awareness” and knowledge base for all the accessibility barriers facing disabled people. 

However, the lack of any structural measure of accountability that will address the growing accessibility problem has shown the Government’s processes around accessibility are far too opaque - shrouding them in a cloud of mystery that brings the character and integrity of the proposed bill into question.

We profess to be innovative, forward thinking and ‘kind’ but what are we showing through our blatant oversight and disregard towards physically disabled peoples? The exact opposite. 

If only the dreadful dilemmas disabled people experienced ended there. 

But sadly, they don’t. 

In virtually every aspect of life for a “normal” walking individual that has no limiting or debilitating disabilities, there are challenges faced by wheelchair users, the elderly pushing their bulky walking frames and those using other sets of wheels to travel sidewalks within our various communities. 

Section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act affirms the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form. 

My access to university is included in this right. 

Access to any form of education is included in this right and it is exclusively an ableist’s mentality that would intentionally bar or disbar the blockades faced by people with disabilities when considering a tertiary education. 

As equal members of society, disabled individuals should be provided with equal opportunities across not only the entire education system but all systems.

Ayolabi Martins was born in Germany before moving to New Zealand when he was 2-years-old. He is a former Youth MP for the Upper Harbour and currently lives in Tāmaki Makaurau. He is also a disability activist who regularly advocates for the struggles of many throughout our country, however, the views and experiences presented in this article are his own.

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