Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Disabled Kiwis dying up to 23 years before others - report

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

New Zealanders with intellectual or learning disabilities are dying up to 23 years before the rest of the population, says a key group monitoring disability rights.

The disturbing trend is highlighted in a new report out today by the Independent Monitoring Mechanism (IMM) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The group is calling for urgent action and has released a range of recommendations aimed at improving the health status of people with intellectual/learning disabilities.

New Zealand Convention Coalition chairwoman Mary Schnackenberg says it was appalling that the life expectancy of disabled New Zealanders was considerably lower than the rest of the population.

"It is unacceptable that women with an intellectual/learning disability die an average of 23 years before other women," Ms Schnackenberg said.

"Men with an intellectual/learning disability fare only slightly better with a life expectancy 18 years shorter than other men. These are appalling statistics."

The IMM - which includes the Office of the Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission and the New Zealand Convention Coalition made up of eight disabled people's organisations - says this situation is not new and is unacceptable.

In 2003 National Health Committee report criticised significant health disparities for people with intellectual/learning disabilities.

However, the IMM report says there has been minimal evidence since then of progress to address this systemic health abuse, despite government assurances to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2009.

As a result, the IMM made further submissions to the Human Rights Council last year.

In June, the Government reported back to the Human Rights Council that it would explore options for making healthcare more accessible to people with intellectual/learning disabilities.

Increasing access to health services and improving health outcomes for disabled people is also one of the cross-government priorities in the 2014-18 Disability Action Plan, announced at the end of May.

"The IMM welcomes these announcements," the report says.

"It is essential that disabled people, including those with intellectual/learning disabilities, are actively involved in finding solutions that improve their health, wellbeing and life expectancy," says the report.

The IMM report highlights seven key issues, including improved data collection, accessibility, building a people driven system, violence and abuse, education, serious health outcomes, and removal of remedies for unlawful discrimination in relation to family caregivers.

IMM recommends that the Ministry of Health work with disabled people and their organisations to establish a comprehensive health monitoring and improvement programme.

It also calls on Statistics New Zealand to ensure that comprehensive data is collected comparing health outcomes for disabled and non-disabled people in New Zealand.

The Education Act should also be changed so that disabled students are guaranteed the right to attend their local state school, IMM says.

The change should also include considering whether the Ministry of Education should have statutory power of direction in cases where a disabled child is being prevented from enrolling in, or attending, school.

IMM's second report, launched today in Christchurch, also slammed proposed changes to building regulations as unnecessary and infringed disabled people's human rights to accessing buildings.

When a building is upgraded, reasonable and adequate access must be made for people with disabilities, the report says.

But Disability Commissioner Paul Gibson raised concerns over the proposed post-Canterbury earthquake legislation that would allow two and three level buildings built without lifts or the capacity to include them at a later date.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel highlighted the need for accessibility -- not just for buildings or public transport -- but in terms of being an "utter inclusive environment".

The earthquakes have given Christchurch the chance to become the most accessible city in the world, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority chief executive Roger Sutton said.

Accessiblity, Mr Sutton said, is not a reluctant human rights compliance issue, but good design and the "right thing to do".

- APNZ

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