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Source: Human Rights Commission

By Paula Tesoriero MNZM, Disability Rights Commissioner

Disability Rights Commissioner, Paula Tesoriero welcomes the Prime Minister’s announcement (3 Dec) that Santa is exempt from quarantine requirements and can travel to New Zealand to deliver presents but worries he might be shut out in the future.

“Santa’s days of travelling may be cut short due to accessibility issues in Aotearoa,” said Ms Tesoriero.  

The Prime Minister has rightly pointed out that at Santa’s age he fits within a group who may be vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19.

“We know that people can become disabled as they get older,” said Ms Tesoriero. The 2013 Disability Survey identifies that 59 per cent of disabled New Zealanders are over the age of 65.  Not everyone becomes disabled with age but a number do, and so might Santa.

“With just one per cent of New Zealand’s homes being accessible, Santa simply won’t be able to go where he needs to,” Ms Tesoriero said.  

Kainga Ora’s target of 15 per cent of homes being built to universal design standards still left thousands of children at risk of not receiving presents in the future.  

“The default target should be that all new homes are built according to universal design standards, after all everyone has the right to housing and an adequate standard of living,” said Ms Tesoriero. 

But it’s not just accessing homes that disabled people are concerned about for Santa. 

“If Santa ever needs to rely on more conventional transport than a sleigh he may also run into problems with public transport not meeting the needs of all people in New Zealand,” Ms Tesoriero said.

There is unease that if Santa becomes disabled and also gets unwell while passing through New Zealand, his health outcomes may reflect the same dire results as found in the 2019/20 New Zealand Public Health Survey which identified that one in five disabled people reported not going to a GP due to cost. Disabled people were almost four times as likely to collect a prescription due to cost and six times as likely as non-disabled adults to have experienced psychological distress.   

With COVID-related production delays and redundancies, Santa’s workshop may have reduced its volume of gifts contributing to more than just some sad little faces on Christmas morning. The economic downturn emphasises the need to ‘build back to a better world’, the theme of this year’s International Day of People with Disabilities. 

The Disability Rights Commissioner wants to see disabled people front and centre of the re-build.  The latest household Labour Force results showed disabled people have twice the unemployment rate as non-disabled people, earn less and more disabled children live in households that experience poverty. 

“The trends are not getting better,” Ms Tesoriero said. 

And finally, there is the fear that a future disabled Santa will face the stigma and poor attitudes experienced by many disabled people.  

“Now more than ever, we need an inclusive New Zealand, one where diversity is celebrated. This would ensure Santa can work in a country where his strengths are highlighted and he is given the same opportunity to participate as everyone else.”

Santa is a truly global person. “He should expect every country he goes to, to give full effect to the international conventions signed up to,” said Ms Tesoriero.  The report of the Independent Monitoring Mechanism  Making Disability Rights Real Report June 2020 highlights New Zealand’s progress in implementing the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It identifies progress in some areas but significant gaps in others.

“The social model of disability says that it is not an individual’s impairment that creates disability, rather it is the barriers put in our way.  Let’s break down barriers so Santa can always travel freely in New Zealand, regardless of whether he becomes disabled or temporarily injured or becomes unwell.”

“I’m pretty sure Santa would agree that we need to have a serious conversation about the outcomes disabled people currently face in New Zealand. COVID-19 has shone the light on existing gaps,” Ms Tesoriero said. 

The Disability Rights Commissioner has urged the Government to accelerate plans for change to improve outcomes for disabled people in the COVID-19 build-back.