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Disability rights

Legal information to empower disabled and Deaf people

What this chapter covers

Note: In this chapter we’ve used the terms “disability” and “impairment”, and “disabled people”, in line with the New Zealand Disability Strategy. But we realise that there are important, ongoing discussions in the disabled and Deaf communities about which terms are most appropriate.

This chapter brings together information about the law affecting disabled and Deaf people. It covers key areas of life like decision making, working, and using shops and services. It also covers your rights under the United Nations Disability Convention, an international agreement that isn’t directly part of New Zealand law but that’s still important and influential.

The central theme of this chapter is equal access for disabled and Deaf people, and the ways in which New Zealand law – particularly the anti-discrimination laws in the Human Rights Act 1993 – protects and promotes that right.

We provide a lot of examples from real cases – for example, giving details of how a worker took a successful discrimination claim to the Employment Relations Authority when their employer changed their work arrangements because of their impairment.

The chapter is divided up into the following sections:

  • Rights that are recognised internationally: The UN Disability Convention – This explains about this international agreement that New Zealand has signed up to, and how disabled people in New Zealand can use it to enforce their rights and protect themselves against discrimination.
  • Decision making: When others can legally make decisions for you – This explains:
    • how you can give someone else the legal power to make various decisions for you (like where’ll you live and what medical treatment you’ll have) if you lose the ability to make decisions for yourself or the ability to tell others about your decisions. This is called giving someone an “enduring power of attorney” – or “an EPA”.
    • how and when, if you haven’t made an EPA, the Family Court can make decisions for you or appoint someone (a “welfare guardian” or a “property manager” or both) to make decisions for you.
  • Employment: Access to jobs and protection against discrimination – This section explains:
    • what you do, and don’t, have to say about an impairment when you’re looking for work
    • minimum wage rates, including when and how you can be employed below minimum wage
    • how workplace discrimination laws protect you from being fired or disadvantaged in your current job.
  • Access to shops, transport and other services – This explains about:
    • protections against discrimination when you’re accessing shops and services
    • specific requirements around access to transport
    • access to buildings
    • assistance dogs
    • accessible information about services, particularly on government websites.
  • Your rights to use New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) – This explains about the status of NZSL as an official language of New Zealand, and your rights to use NZSL in the courts and when dealing with government organisations.
  • Renting a flat: Access to housing and accommodation – This explains about protections against discrimination by landlords.
  • Benefits and compensation: What you’re entitled to from Work and Income and ACC – This section explains about:
    • different benefits and allowances from Work and Income
    • the right to lump-sum compensation from ACC if you have a permanent impairment.
  • Health and disability services: Your rights and how to enforce them – This section explains about the Code of Rights that protects you when using disability support services, as well as general health services like your local GP and medical centre.
  • Education: Access and learning support for disabled and Deaf students – This section explains about:
    • your rights to state-funded education
    • your rights at private education institutions
    • dedicated funding for students who need learning support
    • common problems at school and how parents and whānau might deal with them
    • access to universities, polytechs and other tertiary institutions.
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