Green Party and Autism, in the lead up to the 2011 NZ General Election

Bowen House, the Beehive and Parliament, New Z...

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As discussed in my introductory post, I’ll be reviewing (and to a certain extent, commenting) on the policies of the political parties running in the New Zealand 2011 General election, as to how they affect individuals and families who live with autism. The first party I’ll be looking at is the Green Party, full name, “Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.”

The Green Party have been remarkably visible this year when autism has hit the headlines; responding with concern and support. Key examples are World Autism Awareness Day in April; speaking out about the government insufficiently funding the charity “Autism NZ,” when the Waikato branch shut down in July; and about the dropping of the Charges against Arie Smith-Voorkamp in August.

The Green Party was one of only two political parties that responded to Autism NZ’s request for answers to questions about policies relevant to autism families (the only other party that responded was the Maori party). Almost all of the content in the Green party’s answers to Autism NZ (see page 3 of the Autism NZ September newsletter), can already be seen in their Disability Policy, viewable here. There is a lot of cross-over, filler, and matters not directly relevant to autism, in these pieces, so I’ve sifted through for major themes and promotions that I think are most important and interesting for families and individuals with autism.

The overall attitude of the Green Party is pro facilitating inclusion, on the “social model of disability”: “the real obstacle to full participation in society by people with impairments is not the impairment itself but rather physical, environmental, social and organisational barriers, poorly informed attitudes, and inadequate support services.”

The Green Party pinpoints discrimination and negative attitudes towards impaired persons, as a serious barrier to their inclusion in society. To this end they’d like to see more awareness campaigns supporting respect and equality for disabled individuals. They would also implement affirmative action to help overcome such barriers, in areas such as employment; including the attractive notion of setting up some way through which employers can let people know that they are affirmative action employers (such as via a website). They want to make sure disability awareness is a part of all courses for those working with directly with the public in public service roles. Indeed, they would like to see mandatory training about disability rights and needs as part of teacher education. The Green Party also wants to empower disabled people with the knowledge of their rights. They want to promote and encourage the ability of those with impairments to take on leadership roles.

I was interested to see their awareness of how hard it can be for our children to take part in mainstream education, everything said here applies to our families in these situations: “At the moment parents constantly have to advocate so school principals and trustees understand their obligations and work in positive, non-discriminatory ways. Some teacher education still does not include any component on supporting children with diverse needs. Many children living with impairments are made to feel unwelcome when enrolling at their local school, partly because of prejudice, but mainly because resources are not adequate to meet their needs. Some schools are sending children home at lunchtime or telling them to stay at home on days when there is no teacher aide.”  They’re also aware that those with “moderate needs” often miss out on individual funding and have to rely on the goodwill of schools. Again, an issue very close to the heart of many parents of autistic children.

To help address these problems, the Green Party wants to double the percentage of children receiving independent funding. They want to “ensure all children have the absolute right to education in their local school and have the resources to support this, and that schools are accountable for the way they use disability funding.” The Green Party also expresses concerns about how National Standards might impact on children with ASD (you can see my own recent post on this issue, here).

Out of concern over inefficiencies and other problems rife in the provision of services to disabled individuals, the Green Party wants to see the formation of a Disability Issues Commission. They’re aware that currently the “funding support for people with impairments is immensely complex.” This is again, very true for those of us seeking help for our autistic children. The Green Party is very pro individualised funding: “Individualised funding has been trialed with some people – usually those whose needs are so complex that no service can meet them. It bypasses bureaucracy and the complexity that has evolved, giving control back to individuals and their families.” Again, directly relevant to families with autistic children, they state they will: “Review the Child Disability Allowance with a view to increasing the levels in acknowledgment of the extra financial needs that parents and caregivers have when raising a child with special needs.” I was also very pleased to see their desire to: “Improve inter-agency cooperation, streamline services and reduce the complexity of funding and the need for constant advocacy for basic entitlements.

My overall impression of the Green Party is that they have impressive levels of awareness and responsiveness to the concerns and realities of autistic individuals and their families. They take disability rights seriously and intend to be proactive about making sure the rights just aren’t there in theory, but also in practice. They show a rather developed understanding that the impact of disability is hugely affected by attitudes within society. Another point I haven’t mentioned in the body of my post, but that they are very interested in addressing, is the relevance of cultural factors and experiences to providing supports to disabled people (with particular reference to Maori).

I have tried to pull out the aspects of their policies that most impact on autism families. There is much more information there about policy on disability more generally, and that might particularly apply to autism families where more than one condition affects the individual. So I would encourage you to click-through on the links provided in my post if you want more information or details.

Please note, I’m not endorsing voting for the Greens, and I am not a member of the Green party, or indeed any other political party. No one has asked me, or paid me, to write these posts. If I become aware of the Green Party introducing any major changes to their policy relevant to autism pre the election, I will add it as a dated edit under this paragraph. I welcome feedback from any and all parts of the political spectrum to this and the other Election 2011 posts I shall be doing, which will all be filed under the category “NZ Elections 2011; Autism.”

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