Reporting on rugby from a wheelchair

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One on one interviews are always easier from an access standpoint. Photo: Michael Pulman

As one of the rare wheelchair-bound members of New Zealand’s rugby media pack, it’s been an interesting experience thus far and on a few examples I’ve had to “drive my way in” to get those all-important quotes on record.

The key is that I be up front and honest about the disability and access requirements right from the start. Not to my fellow reporters, but to the media managers.

I do this when I inquire about an interview possibility, attend a game, and especially filling out application forms for accreditation. Questions like “is the venue wheelchair accessible?” and “will my support worker be able to attend with me?” are some of the ones I ask.

Ahead of my first year covering Super Rugby as part of the accredited media, I had the conversation with a media manager about all this. They told me to fill out two application forms, but the prior conversation had been important just to establish why I needed a support worker with me in the media room at all times. The reason for someone being there isn’t just so they “can get into the game for free” as one person put it, but it’s because I actually need someone (who is paid by me) to help me with getting things in and out of my bag, et cetera.

In general, other reporters have always been greatly welcoming and inclusive toward me.

I’ve had some people jokingly say that I “played the wheelchair card” to get media access with rugby teams. Me stating my access issues, or the need for a support worker to attend with me, is just a necessity so that I can perform to my very best ability.

Most media rooms I’ve seen are accessible to wheelchairs, but there have been examples of venues that can’t stake the same claim.

One such example of this is Rotorua International Stadium. The Chiefs had shifted one of their home games to this venue in 2015. I signalled my interest to work at the game, but after a few inquiries I learnt that the media room was not wheelchair accessible. I thought that would be that and I’d be working on my laptop from home. Then I got a phone call, and it was the Chiefs media manager who told me that they were going to setup a table for me on the field.

“On the field!”, I thought. So there I was, field side with my laptop setup for the Chiefs match in 2015. I’ll never forget seeing Augustine Pulu dive over the try line right in front of me that night, not the only moment that I almost forgot I was there to work as a journalist, not a fan.

It gets a little bit different when it comes to covering International rugby though.

First time in a media scrum with All Blacks captain Kieran Read; I was pushed to the back, ironically after starting out near the front after the media manager had given me earlier warning of the interviews beginning. Reporters pushed their way past me, microphones and cameras all but blurred my vision of the All Black skipper. Thankfully, one reporter noticed my difficulty and kindly said he would send through his audio so that I could get on with writing my story.

The restrictions about bringing a support worker in are also slightly trickier. As I eluded to earlier, it’s very important that I have the conversation with the media managers involved beforehand.

Looking outside of the reporting work; I certainly think that a lot can be done to improve the match experience for disabled patrons. Not just physically disabled, but also those who are visually impaired. I know a man who is partially sighted and he struggles getting to and from his seat. He pays hundreds of dollars a year paying a yearly membership – and while he enjoys the games themselves – the experience before and after is often less than pleasant. It would also help if the accessible seating for wheelchair users at games was situated in a way that vision of the field wouldn’t be impaired when others in the crowd stand up as a try is scored.

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Posted in Disability, Sports

HealthCare NZ to pick up 850 families wanting Home Support

IHC New Zealand boss Ralph Jones has confirmed that HealthCare NZ and Spectrum Care are likely to take over provision of home support and facility based respite for its clients.

IDEA Services has been in the news for dropping the two services, and even more recently for cutting its Autism support, but the impending signature with two of New Zealand’s most prominent support providers is encouraging.

850 families receive home support under IDEA Services, and the provider says it’s confident that HealthCare NZ can take on each of those.

“When we signalled an intention to move out of these services, a great deal of work was done to ensure continuity”, Ralph Jones said. “We know that families want certainty and we are pleased to be able to share the next step as part of our commitment to ensure uninterrupted services”, Jones added

Three of the respite bases will be managed by HealthCare NZ, and Spectrum Care are wanting to manage two in the Wellington region.

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Posted in Disability

Minister for Disability Issues lashes out in Parliament

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Minister Wagner lashed out in Parliament this afternoon. Photo: TheWorkingBlog

In a remarkable afternoon in Parliament; the Minister for Disability Issues took aim at IDEA Services and labelled the provider irresponsible.

Opposition Labour MP Poto Williams has accused Nicky Wagner of reacting in an appalling manner when asked about cuts to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) support announced by IDEA Services on Tuesday.

In a rant of sorts, Wagner accused IDEA Services of doing a U-turn on discussions about re-signing the contract which would have seen the ASD support continue. Wagner also claims that IDEA refused to enter into transitional services before a new provider was found.

“After previously indicating they would renew contracts, they gave no notice their clients. They also refused to agree to a temporary three month contract”, Wagner said. “I say that IDEA Services is being totally irresponsible. We all know change is difficult, especially for this cohort of clients where routine and security is so important”, Wagner added.

In the aftermath of Wagner’s comments, the Ministry of Health issued a statement. Toni Atkinson, the senior media advisor for the Ministry, reaffirmed the Government’s stance that increased levels of funding has been injected into IDEA Services.

“IDEA have been funded $2.3million per annum to deliver these ASD services. They, like other providers, need to configure their service within the available funding”, Atkinson said.

Despite a long relationship between IDEA Services and the Ministry; it appears that the relationship could now be over.

“We acknowledge IDEA’s long standing commitment to the provision of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) services through New Zealand. We are disappointed that the relationship with families and the Ministry is to end in this way”, Atkinson said.

Reaction on social media has been of shock and disappointment, particularly at Wagner for her comments. One woman said the Minister was in “la la land” if she couldn’t work out how underfunded the disability sector is.

The Ministry say that other providers have already showed willingness to pick up the ASD contracts. No firm date has been given for new services and an announcement won’t be made until a new provider is confirmed.

Atkinson says that the wait will continue for the high amount of people on waiting lists.

“People on wait lists will stay on the waiting list until new services are in place. The Ministry will ask IDEA to provide a copy of the current waiting list so that these people can be prioritised once alternative services are in place.”

The Ministry estimates that currently 446 active clients are involved in services and 728 families across New Zealand are on waiting lists.

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Posted in Disability, Politics, Uncategorized

Ministry of Health make further comment on ASD Support reductions

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The Mnistry of Health logo. Photo: Wikimedia

A senior media advisor at the Ministry of Health has provided further information on the recent cuts to services supporting people in the ASD community.

According to the Ministry; an email sent by IDEA Services last week was confirmation that the provider would not be renewing the ASD contracts.

No one has said that IDEA Services won’t continue to provide any support for the ASD community, in this blog or otherwise. IHC New Zealand boss Ralph Jones said that the organisation will continue to advocate on behalf of all people with intellectual disabilities.

But the fact remains, IDEA Services won’t be running these popular services and the hundreds of families on waiting lists will have to stay in limbo.

For a long time now, people have struggled to take what the Government says regarding funding for disability support at face value. This latest example in terms of the apparent reduction in funding for ASD support services is the latest example.

After the email exchange between IDEA Services and the Ministry, a letter was sent out to people receiving support for ASD services. In that letter, IDEA Services gave this official statement:

“Unfortunately with the underfunding of over $500,000 in the 2016/2017 year and no offer of an increase for the coming year we cannot continue to provide the service”, IDEA Specialist Services General Manager said.

The Minister for Disability issues has said that funding isn’t being reduced, for IDEA Services or any other organisation. This is in direct contrast  to what was claimed in the letter.

Costs for all organisations are on the rise and some have speculated that the $500,000 underfund for IDEA Services isn’t specific to ASD contracts. What IDEA Services are saying is that there has been insufficient funding to continue ASD support services moving forward.

Some members of the ASD community say that IDEA Services didn’t renew the contract with the Ministry of Health due to being underfunded as costs for services and programmes continue to rise. They also say that this was not a new problem either.

The mainstream media are currently working on this story.

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Posted in Disability, Politics

Minister denies claims of reduction in funding for IDEA Services

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The Minister for Disability Issues. Photo: NickyWagnerNational 

The Ministry of Health and the Minister for Disability Issues have both denied a reduction in funding for IDEA Services led to cuts of support programmes for people with Autism.

Tony Atkinson, Disability Support Services Group Manager, rejected claims of funding reductions leading to IDEA Services pulling out of providing three programmes that support and educate people in the ASD community.

“There has been no reduction or cut in funding to IDEA Services”, Atkinson said.

The Ministry and IDEA Services want to limit disruption and the gaps between the end of one service and the beginning of other ones. Atkinson says that alternative arrangements for affected services are being worked through.

Just what those other services will be, and how accommodating they are to the thousands of people in the ASD community remains to be seen.

Aside from the thousands due to be affected by the cuts announced via a letter distributed from IDEA Services on Tuesday, many more are still on waiting lists as well. In the letter, IDEA pointed to an underfunding of $500,000 in the 2015/16 financial year as a big factor in their decision to cease continuation of three ASD programmes.

After negotiations with the Ministry of Health, a new contract was not signed. Atkinson says that the Ministry will be seeking alternate providers to continue services for ASD clients and also the others affected by home care and facility based respite cuts.

The Minister for Disability Issues palmed off suggestions of reductions and cuts also. When contacted by this blog, Nicky Wagner says she had no knowledge of the letter sent out by IDEA Services and questioned some of the quotes published on this blog.

“I haven’t seen this letter but nothing you quote is correct”, Wagner said.

Yesterday, the Minister announced the members selected onto a co-design group that will be tasked with transforming disability supports. Some concerns have been raised by members of the ASD community about their representation on the group.

Gabrielle Hogg is advocate for people on the Autism spectrum and says that a lack of representation goes against a call from the United Nations to have people with Autism in decision making roles on Government advisory committees.

Hogg says that she is very concerned that people on the spectrum are being ignored.

“Autistic individuals feel very much locked out from having direct feedback with being on the group”, Hogg said.

More to come.

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Posted in Disability, Politics

Thousands on the Autism Spectrum have support cut

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A member of the ASD Community, just one of thousands set to see her supports cut off. Photo: IHC NZ

Members of the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) community have been left reeling after news that IDEA Services will no longer provide support to families due to funding cuts by the Ministry of Health.

Three popular and successful support programmes will get the chop, leaving many on the spectrum without their day bases and no education for families. It also means that the several thousand on waiting lists now have to miss out, at least until something else is sorted.

The news comes as a massive blow to the ASD community, and IHC New Zealand’s boss Ralph Jones says that the timing of the announcement comes as an “extra blow” that is “devastating” for the organisation and the people it supports. Just a few weeks ago, Jones also announced that several support services would be cut, including home support and facility based respite.

Other providers are now set to not only bare the increase in demand from the over 12,000 people affected by those cuts, but now also the large numbers involved with ASD programmes.

ASD programmes run by IDEA Services to be cut are:

Growing Up With Austism

ASD Plus

Communication & Behaviour

In total, IDEA Services was underfunded by a total $500,000 in the past financial year as the Ministry of Health continues its cut backs. This news comes despite the fact that Minister for Disability issues said that funding has increased by 4% each year throughout the sector.

IDEA Services has been providing large amounts of support to the ASD community since 2013 under a contact with the Ministry of Health.

The Government simply must inject more funding into disability support. If not, big cuts like this are only going to continue. Labour MP Grant Robertson took to social media to air his concerns, but very few others in Parliament have touched on the issue.

“We should restore the funding for this as part of a comprehensive and diverse set of support programmes for those with autism. It is what a caring and inclusive country would do”, Robertson said.

People suffering from autism and their families have taken to Facebook to air their concerns. One woman said that IDEA Services had done a lot of good work to develop autism awareness training but the Ministry of Health hadn’t provided enough investment for it to take place. Another woman, who works for a National Group Organisation (NGO), said that families are being left with less and less support while workloads for organisations only continue to lose workers who are fed up with being unpaid for extra hours.

This blog has contacted this Minister for Disability Issues and the Ministry of Health for comment.

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Posted in Disability, Politics

PERSONAL: Physically weak but emotionally strong

I was in a shop the other day and there was this group of children who walked past. They stopped and stared, not knowing that they were blocking my path. Their mum noticed and quickly moved them on. She smiled at me and lean’t down to talk to the children as I drove past.

“You see that man in that wheelchair, he is an angel of god”, she said.

I heard it as plain as day, kept on driving through the store, and never gave it another thought. It’s not my place to say that what she said was right, or wrong, I’ve always just been me and the disability is secondary to all that.

In all honesty, I don’t think about the disability too much, mainly because I don’t see the point. I was born this way due to genetics and that’s the reality of it.

I also try to make a point to just accept my position as a person with a disability. On days like this, that isn’t always easy.

The hardest thing to accept is how my body is changing and how quickly it feels like that’s happening right now.

I’ve realised that I need to make some changes, particularly to my diet, but that’s also tremendously challenging in its own right. I guess I am scared of changing in the process, because I’ve always been the type of person to just enjoy the moment and not really worry too much about the consequences. I want to be happy in my own skin, not constantly trying to challenge how I look or what I eat.

Every day it seems, I wake up and I can’t move the same way I used to. Simple things like holding a cup of tea are so much more challenging, and it’s so much easier to sleep than it is to stay awake. Those two things alone scare the hell out of me, and it frustrates me that all this is happening right in front of me.

It’s always in the back of my mind that time is of the essence. What I mean by that is; I don’t know how much longer I’ve got where I can truly be able to be the best me that I can be. You’ve got to understand that it is almost always passion and self-belief that gets you through even the worst of times. But having said that, there is no stopping the effects that this disability does and will continue to have on my body.

Right now, I feel tired. It scares me to say this, but I feel disabled.

Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful for the help I get each and every day from so many different people. Whether it be paid caregivers, friends, family, and even my partner Jess who simply goes above and beyond, they are all there for me. I trust them with my life and they’ll never know just how thankful I am.

But another part of me seriously resents how much help I do need. Does that make any sense?

The point of this blog was to just show you, my dearest readers, that I am not always as positive and as driven as it seems. Advocating for the rights of disabled people is my greatest passion, writing about sports and interviewing sports people is my second passion, but both of those take so much energy and so much time. Indeed, time is of the essence, and I don’t know any other way but forward.

So thank you, your support means so much, even on tough days like this.

Posted in Life Theory
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