Last year, we elected our first profoundly deaf MP, Mojo Mathers. Obviously, her disability poses some problems to participating in the House. Equally obviously, there are solutions which enable that participation, which the Greens have been ironing the bugs out of. And as a democratic institution, committed to respecting the democratic choices of the electorate and representing all New Zealanders, you'd expect the House to pay for them.
But apparently not:
Speaker Lockwood Smith has told deaf MP Mojo Mathers she must pay for the $30,000 technology to speak in Parliament out of her own budget.In other words, Mojo is not going to be allowed to represent her constituents effectively. Either she speaks in the House, or forgoes an office, PA, communications, or something else we expect our elected representatives to have to do an effective job.
She will give her maiden speech in the House tomorrow, which will be translated by sign-language interpreters.
But Smith has told the Green Party that Parliamentary Services will not pay for the electronic note-taking equipment which Mathers needs to take part in debates.
This is pretty obviously unlawful discrimination under the Human Rights Act. Disability is a prohibited grounds of discrimination. While there are exceptions for employers, access to public places, and provision of goods and serves allowing discrimination where it would not be reasonable to accomodate disability requirements, in this case it bloody well is reasonable to expect an elected representative to be allowed to do her job, and in any case those exceptions do not apply. Mathers is not an employee. Speaking in Parliament is not a public place or a service provided to the public. With this decision, the Speaker is in breach of the law. And when Parliament is telling people that they must accomodate disability, that makes him a hypocrite of the highest order.
But its not just about unlawfulness and hypocrisy, but also about democracy. Parliament proclaims itself to be "our House". They've just shown clearly that they're not, that they are not there to represent everyone, but only those who can hear. The message to the public is clear: deaf people do not belong to our community, and should not be represented in Parliament. And that is not a message the New Zealand Parliament should be sending.