How do we gain visibility?

On Sunday 4 March I was keen to hear the latest in the Insight documentary series from Radio NZ National. This was subtitled: “No Job, No Training, No Hope?”

The reporter hosting the documentary was Emile Donovan. emile.donovan

The website intro to the documentary noted: “The economy is going gangbusters and we’re in the middle of a construction boom, yet 80,000 young New Zealanders are not in work or training while immigrants are brought in to work as builders and bricklayers. How does a young person end up unemployed and uneducated, and are there processes in place to help those people get back on the ladder?”

This documentary focused on young people not in employment, education or training, otherwise known as NEETs.

Some interesting statistical data on this issue was presented. We were advised that while the unemployment rate in New Zealand currently stands at 4.5%, NEETs make up 11.5%, as at February 2018. Māori and Pacifica make up 40% of NEETs and 15% or 12,000 people are young women who are also caregivers. Each NEET costs the country just over 21,000 annually in benefits and lost productivity. This equates to 1.5 billion dollars each year.

Now since we know that, according to the last Census published by Statistics New Zealand in 2014, one in four New Zealanders is disabled by barriers to participation in the community and almost 70% of working age disabled people are not working and mostly not in education or training either, you could have been forgiven for expecting that disabled youth would feature strongly in this Insight programme. Especially when we also know that benefit payments and lost tax revenue from this group accounts for 1.1 Billion dollars (Workbridge 2016). But no, the only mention disabled people got in this programme was in the usual passive role of being cared for by young women labeled as care givers: “ … looking after an elderly or disabled relative …”

There have been several news items written and broadcast recently which discuss the needs of those who ‘care’ for us as disabled people. But wait, who mandated our relatives or organisations that profess to work for us to talk on our behalf? Are media representatives too frightened to discuss the issues that matter to us, for example about choice and power over our own autonomy, with us? And why can’t broadcasters and others simply ask us and stop treating us, in the words of the late June Opie, as though we are “museum specimens”. imagine how it might feel if your husband>/wife or some agency professing to be experts on you were the only people others spoke to about you and your life? What’s more, how appropriate would it be for Pākehā to rule the lives of Māori or men to decide everything for and about women … oh of course, that’s the way things used to be right? And, while such behavior was once the norm, it is, thank goodness, no longer considered acceptable.

The message most of us would send if we could capture the attention of the media for one minute is: we are not figures of tragedy, suffering from our afflictions. Neither are we here to provide inspiration to you. What we do suffer from is lack of consideration for our rights, being spoken about and not spoken to and the arrogance of those who continually assume (usually wrongly) that they have any clue who we are or what we need to remove the barriers to our full participation in all aspects of life. Disabled youth should have been included in this documentary and not pushed to the sidelines, to possibly be trotted out only when convenient to pluck at people’s heart-strings and get a ‘good story’.