When it comes to addressing accessibility, disabled people need to be part of the conversation and not just a point in the conversation.
Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
It’s marked as a moment to celebrate and recognise the achievements of disabled people but despite these noble intentions, Ayolabi Martins writes, today isn’t really an opportunity for New Zealand’s biggest minority group to shine, embrace differences and be inspired by people’s stories of pursuing life head-on.
Rather, it’s just another political checkmark on the government’s to-do list from the United Nations.
I strongly believe the International Day, which has now been celebrated for 30 years, has only had a marginal impact on our community.
Shortly after I wrote about how my future depended on the accessibility of New Zealand’s universities, I visited my preferred university and toured around their various facilities to determine whether it was feasible for me to attend as I had planned and hoped.
Although the main reason for the visit was to alleviate any fears my parents had over my attendance at this university, the visit ended up doing the exact opposite. It was truly that bad.
Not only will I need physical support to transfer from my wheelchair to a desk in a lecture theatre (because wheelchair users weren’t thought about when the building was being designed) but I can only sit in the extreme front or extreme back of the room as the poorly planned stairs prevent me from occupying any other seats.
The fact that my classes will take place in several different buildings also implies that I’ll have to be accompanied by a carer almost all day to safely cross roads, avoid sidewalk obstacles, and navigate the mess of Auckland CBD which we confidently call our nation’s pride and joy.
Despite all the odds and many challenges choosing this tertiary provider has immediately presented from a simple tour, I’ve still decided to pursue it. It provides me with better academic opportunities in my field of interest and at this university I’ll be studying for selected degrees and courses that I'm genuinely passionate about.
Ayolabi Martins is determined to pursue studies at his preferred university despite the disastrous tour of its facilities.
If living with a disability has only taught me one thing, it’s been not to take “no” or “impossible” as an answer.
Rather it’s fired me up to look for alternative routes to the same destination - a key skill necessary in our ever-changing society.
Unfortunately, this key skill of adaptability has not yet been adequately taught to our nation’s governing body as, despite strong opposition and resentment from many such as myself, the Accessibility Bill remains before the house in its select committee stage where no meaningful contributions seem to have been accepted.
After closely observing Parliament’s response to feedback on this bill, my opinions have not only remained the same, but they’ve grown considerably more staunch and unreserved.
Addressing accessibility concerns around the nation should be done through a process where disabled people are also part of those discussions and not just a central point of discussion.
This is because by simply including those affected by the overarching problem, actionable plans can be set in place and will ultimately appease both government and Aotearoa’s disabled community at large.
At this stage, this bill is pathetic. A slap in the face. To add insult to injury, the bill, in my opinion, could end up slowing progress on accessibility, especially if there soon becomes an expectation that every accessibility change must pass through a single committee.
Progress and advancement on much needed initiatives will likely slow to a snail’s pace where literally every change pertaining to disability access will be embroiled in a bureaucratic bottleneck.
Having said all this, I’m afraid that by myself I’m not loud enough.
I’m afraid that by myself and in my own strength I may not be heard.
Knowing that the voice of one crying in the wilderness doesn’t always attract the right attention, I’m afraid that I will be misheard.
It’s become demonstrably clear that I’m not loud enough because I’m doing this independently.
Nonetheless, as a beacon of truth for others, I’m hopeful that seeing somebody active in this space will make others strive to do the same.
It acts as a remedy for the difficulties of daily activity. Fundamentally it fills me with excitement because although we may never create a “perfect” society, at least we’ll all live in a better one.
A society where all are bold enough to speak out for their area of contention and in their own way.
A society where it’s recognised that small droplets are essentially what fill a bucket and with this in mind, the constant reminder of hope is what keeps us striving for a better tomorrow.
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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