How businesses, organisations, spaces, places and events can be more accessible to the 1 in 4 Kiwis living with a disability or access need.
There are over one million New Zealanders currently living with a disability or access need in our communities today. This significant portion of our population are active and contributing members of our society, our economy and our local communities. They work, shop, pay taxes, vote, and contribute their time and effort in a multitude of ways to the world around us.
However, despite this, many access citizens continue to find that the most common areas of public life, such as public spaces, education and employment opportunities, housing and transport are not easily accessible. This not only creates great inequity within our society, but it also represents a huge amount of wasted talent, ideas, potential customers and contributions that New Zealand is missing out on due to lack of accessibility.
To gain a deeper understanding of exactly which aspects of society are not accessible, and where the biggest improvement could be made, we worked with research agency Cogo to survey nearly 1,500 New Zealanders on the accessibility of public activities and events as well as attitudes and social norms around accessibility.
Our survey found that fundamental areas of public life such as education, access to outdoor spaces, and public transport were rated poorly by the majority of survey participants with access needs.
The lowest rated area of public life was employment opportunities – with only 13% of access citizens giving it a positive accessibility rating. The implications of this are far-reaching; many access citizens are potentially lacking the fulfilment and sense of value that comes from meaningful employment. And society as a whole is missing out on the many social and economic contributions that access citizens could be making if employment opportunities were more accessible.
In addition to essential services like education and employment, 52% of access citizens reported that they are unable to participate in all the activities and events of public life they'd like to due to inaccessibility.
This includes activities such as shopping, going to restaurants and cafes, museums, galleries, attending the theatre, sports events and more.
The 'yellow dollar' - contributions by access citizens to the economy through disposable income - constitute around $1 trillion globally, so we have an opportunity to boost businesses at this challenging time simply by making our shops, public spaces and events more accessible to all.
When it comes to participating in public life such as going shopping, visiting restaurants and cafes, museums, the beach and other outdoor activities, 78% of survey respondents said that they needed some form of accessibility support for them to be able to participate.
However the top two enablers for participation are not hugely costly or difficult.
40% of respondents said that welcoming and helpful customer service would enable them to participate in public activities and events. And 38% said that accessible information on websites would be a key enabler to support greater accessibility.
This means that businesses and organisations could potentially make relatively small adjustments that could have a significant impact on the ability for access citizens in New Zealand to participate more in public life.
Following from this, we also asked access citizens how they’re treated when they go out in public. Around 1 in 3 reported that they were treated differently all the time or ‘often’ with a further third reporting that this happens ‘sometimes’.
For those treated differently, this manifested as being patronised for over half (51%), ignored for a third (30%) and abused for 10%.
It appears that greater understanding, compassion and empathy for people with different needs is an essential part of improving the experience of access citizens in public life and is something that we all play a part in improving.
An overwhelming 97% of respondents with access needs, and 93% of respondents without, placed high importance on New Zealand becoming a more accessible place to live for all.
The benefits of having more active access citizens participating and thriving in our society are undeniable. And the changes needed to get there aren’t enormous. Some simple shifts in mindset, the way we approach customer service, and how we communicate with participants in the community would go a long way in improving experiences for many.