As the 2011 New Zealand General Election moves ever closer (under three weeks to go), I’m still struggling to access all the Parties’ policies on – or relevant to – disability (with my particular focus on how those policies impact on autism families like my own). Some Parties haven’t released those policies yet, and some simply don’t have disability policies; either because it is not an area of focal interest for their Party, or because they have intentionally distributed the issue of disability amongst the rest of their policies. The ACT Party is one of the Parties which doesn’t have an express disability policy, but there are still facts about their aims and attitudes towards disabled people and their families, which you can gleam from related information and other sources. This post is my attempt to bring that information together.
The ACT Party has held the portfolio that oversees special education this past parliamentary term, which has provided plenty of opportunities to get a feel for how the Party has viewed special needs students and special schools. From my research into the Party’s most current policies, I can see no contradictions, and can see plenty of support, for their views expressed about special education over the past few years. So I’m going to begin with the highlights from their outspoken views on special education.
A review of special education last year, found that about 50% of schools are fully inclusive of students with special needs. The government aims for this figure to reach 80% by 2014. This 80% aim is part of ACT’s policy, as brought up and reaffirmed in a recent public meeting discussing the disability policies of six major Parties running in this election. At that same meeting, ACT confirmed other aims expressed in the 2010 governmental special education review; including the desire to increase financial support for special education (which has been shown so far for example, by an increase in ORS funding). They also want to maintain a variety of education options rather than restrict the types and availability of schools, that includes the continued support of the existence of special needs schools. ACT has also been supportive of other support services for special needs children, such as outreach services to aid teachers and these students in the mainstream setting. (Here’s a link to ACT’s education policy in general.)
ACT’s general approach to issues of increasing the quality of life and choices available to those who live with a disability, is that a better economy, more choice and more freedom, benefits everyone, including those with disabilities. Though the details and understanding as to how the needs of those with disabilities might require particular attention in order for that freedom and choice to be effective, appears sketchy at best.
ACT’s welfare policy places emphasis on ensuring “strong, adequate support for the genuinely needy.” This needy group of people expressly includes those with “mental health issues and serious disabilities.” So whilst they clearly intend to crack down on benefit fraud and benefit dependence, that crack-down does not appear to be aimed at those with disabilities.
Overall, there’s not a lot of detail to be gleamed about ACT’s attitudes towards disability, or autism more specifically, though there is a clear interest in maintaining a range of education options open for special needs children, and in continuing and improving the supports available through welfare to individuals / families who live with disability.
I shall end with my standard disclaimer for these posts:
Please note, I’m not endorsing voting for ACT, and I am not a member of ACT, or indeed any other political party. No one has asked me, or paid me, to write these posts. If I become aware of ACT 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.”