Press Release: Election Access Fund Bill hugely positive step towards full enfranchisement of disabled people

A decade after New Zealand told the world it would guarantee people with disabilities equal political rights, the Election Access Fund Bill a concrete step towards making those rights a reality, the Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA) says.

In 2008, New Zealand ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) which states: “States Parties shall guarantee to persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others.”

However, in the last 10 years our organisation has heard countless stories of disabled people facing barriers to political participation ranging from not being able to participate in political parties to not being able to access political and election events, for example because of a lack of New Zealand Sign Language interpreters.

“We view the Election Access Fund Bill as a hugely positive step towards full enfranchisement of disabled people, who make up 24% of New Zealand’s population and are therefore a significant portion of the voting public,” DPA Policy and Relationships Manager Dr Esther Woodbury says.

“The Bill would also support disabled people to participate in social and political activities up to, and including, running for election.

“That said, we do see the Bill as a first step. There are further barriers to disabled people having a voice in politics that are not covered by this Bill. For example, voting booths are set up in a way that not all disabled people, particularly those with sensory impairments or learning disability, can vote independently.

“While the Bill is currently focused on national level politics, we strongly encourage the Governance and Administration Committee to widen the scope of the Bill to include local body politics where many people cut their teeth on political issues.”

DPA submitted its response to the Election Access Fund Bill to the Governance and Administration Committee of Parliament today including the following recommendations:

  • The Disabled Person’s Assembly recommends the Fund is put in place with all three currently eligible groups, including political parties remaining eligible.
  • The Disabled Person’s Assembly would support the extension of this Bill to cover Local Body Elections.
  • The Disabled Person’s Assembly strongly recommends that Deaf and Disabled people are involved at every level of the Election Access process including the design of eligibility criteria and application process, and also in the administration and review processes alongside the Electoral Commission in a co-design and process.
  • The Disabled Persons Assembly also strongly recommends that eligibility criteria are needs based and focused on removing barriers rather than diagnosis specific or determined by degree of impairment.
  • The Disabled Person’s Assembly also strongly recommends that the what can be covered by the Fund focuses on the provision of case by case reasonable accommodations rather than concretely defining what kinds of supports can be covered.
  • The Disabled Persons’ Assembly recognises the expertise of The Human Rights Commission, we also urge members to heed the perspectives of Disabled Person’s Organisations and Deaf and Disabled People.