The New Zealand Government needs to allocate increased funding for Sign Language interpreters if the recently passed Disability Bill is to make any significant difference to Deaf children’s education.
The Bill passed unanimously decision in parliament in September preceding the Government’s ratification of the UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The intention of the government is to protect the rights, expectations and freedoms of those New Zealanders living with disability.
One of those human rights is the right to an education alongside non disabled friends and family.
Unfortunately for some parents who face the challenge of having a disabled child in the education system it is too little too late, and they have decided to take their cases to the Human Rights Commission.
One such family who currently has a case before the Human Rights Commission against the Ministry of Education is Dunedin family Julie Allan and Jeff Broad on behalf of their daughter Isis.
Isis is profoundly Deaf and her first language is New Zealand Sign Language. At 14 years-old Isis has a reading level of an eight year old and has found her years in the education system extremely challenging, at times heart-breaking.
Julie Allen says their case highlights the lack of access Isis, and other families like theirs, have to mainstream education.
“We’re just asking that our Deaf children have the same access to the curriculum at the same level as their hearing peers.” says Isis’ mother, Julie.
In Isis’ case this means the same chance to participate in the classroom as her hearing peers. For that to happen she needs access to a proficient user of sign language for the entire 25 hours a week of school. “These are smart kids but you cannot expect them to be learning well while they’re teaching their teacher aide sign language. It’s totally unacceptable,” says Julie.
After many years battling red tape and government departments Julie feels it may be too late for Isis. However the family hope the Ministry will reassess the inconsistency between what is promised and actually delivered for the sake of other Deaf children.
There are people who, like Julie, feel that the only way to be heard is through a formal complaint. In July this year the IHC lodged a complaint to the Human Rights Commission against government policies and practices that prevent disabled students participating fully at school.
IHC is currently collating cases from a significant number of families’ who want the Government to be held responsible for the barriers their disabled children face when attempting to learn. The complaint focuses on all types of impairment where discrimination occurs on the basis of disability.
Tony McGurk from the IHC Advocacy team says, “This problem has been around far too long. Parents and disability organisations have been pointing out for decades how government has been failing students with disabilities”.
“The difficulties are now so entrenched within the education system that everyone involved including politicians, Ministry of Education officials, schools, parents and students have just resigned themselves to the fact this is simply the way things are.” says Tony.
It is for this reason that the IHC is addressing the issue from a rights-based position. “The unacceptable length of time the problem has been with us and the need for fresh attempts towards resolution gave us no choice but to take the action we have.” said Tony.
It would seem that it is all well and good to pass the Disability Bill through parliament and it certainly places New Zealand on the international stage. However the Government needs to put the resources behind the bill to make it work.
If anyone wishes to become involved, including parents, students, principles and others working in the education or disability sectors contact: Tony McGurk, IHC Advocate firstname.lastname@example.org 0800 442 442