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Innovation can help create an inclusive society for disabled Kiwis

Brad Flahive, 14 February 2017

New Zealand could be missing out on nearly $12 billion by not employing Kiwis with access needs.

That is the message from social change agency Be. Accessible who estimate one in four New Zealanders, including older people, have a disability of some kind.

How do you feel about access in New Zealand? Complete this quick survey to let Be. Accessible know your thoughts.

A 2005 Innov8 study found that about 42 per cent of disabled people are not in any form of employment, compared with 23 per cent non-disabled people - creating an opportunity cost of about $11.7 billion.

Be. Accessible is looking at innovative ways to plug that gap, and its chief executive Minnie Baragwanath believes New Zealand could become a world-leading inclusive society.

"New Zealand is an increasingly sophisticated labour market which is registering the social, cultural and bottom-line economic value of embracing access citizens as workers and consumers," she said.

The institute is running a survey until February 25, which will reveal how New Zealand is adapting to meet the needs of the 25 per cent of citizens with an access need.

The 2015 survey showed that New Zealand had an appetite for an inclusive society, she said.

"The results will inform Be. Accessible on how we can work constructively with central and local government, community organisations and private businesses so that full access and participation in public life can be enjoyed by all New Zealanders."

The research follows the 2015 inaugural New Zealand Accessibility Survey, which found that 80 per cent of respondents believe New Zealand has the potential to become the most accessible country in the world for people to live, work and travel, while 92 per cent of Kiwis were willing to help achieve that goal.

"But what are we prepared to do to get there?"

Baragwanath sees an opportunity to embrace innovation, and the lab at Be. Accessible will use the information to find new ways to be inclusive in a rapidly changing world.

"Feedback from the survey will help create a New Zealand where all people can work, study, play, and reach their full potential through better communities, workplaces, design, innovation, and technology."

She said change shouldn't have to wait for leadership, it can happen without being legislated.

"We don't hear the urgency to discuss diversity for the disabled, the focus is still largely on gender and ethnicity," she said.

Baragwanath is the only New Zealander selected for the 2018 Margaret Wheatley International Leadership programme in Italy.

A group of international social change leaders will gather in April and November to explore how to promote social change and economic advancement through accessibility leadership.

"It'll give me the chance to see how we compare globally in terms of accessibility," she said.

"I can see what is happening around the world  and bring that back to New Zealand to give ourselves a benchmark to compare against."


In New Zealand 50 per cent of disabled adults of working age earn less than $20,000 per year.

The Be. Institute runs a nationwide programme that works with employers who are committed to changing that by advocating for accessible and diverse work forces.  

Be. Employed float student candidates to employers or an employer may approach Be. with specific placement opportunities - the placement must be meaningful and specifically related to the intern's career objectives.

Bart English is currently interning at the Human Rights Commission after graduating from University of Otago from Wellington.  

The 21-year-old said finding an internship in a field he was passionate about was a great start to pursue his dreams, which is something felt by other disabled people who find opportunities through the programme.

"It also provides opportunities for them to see themselves and others in the disabled community as valuable, with the potential to contribute to society.

"For many young disabled people, they feel that they have nothing to offer employers or don't know what kind of prospects there are for them because of their disabilities," he said.

The internships are symbolic of the change that needs to happen, one that is slowly taking place in helping integrate and normalise disability into all facets of social life in New Zealand, he said.

"But more systemic change is needed across New Zealand and programmes like Be. Employed are just a small part of a movement that is slowly growing."

Being external to government enables the Be. Institute to be innovative and creative in their vision and advocating for a more accessible New Zealand, he said.

"I'm extremely proud and lucky to be able to take part in such a fantastic initiative and to help support an organisation that has such high, but realistic ambitions for the disabled community in New Zealand and to be able to support it through my own work." 

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