As some of you will be aware there has been substantial debate over the last week around an interview that I did on a community radio show called “wheels on fire” which focuses on disability issues.
The Taxpayers Union criticised my trip because they didn’t feel that it represented good value for money, but received significant backlash for coming across as mean and nit-picky and showing a lack of awareness of disability issues.
I went out of my way to do the interview because disability is one of my priority portfolios, and I was keen to support a rural show run by disabled people. Doing a one hour live interview on a radio is only possible if I am in the studio. Skype was never an option as neither the audio nor the visual are of sufficient quality for such an interview.
On the show, the hosts Matt and Vanessa asked me about a range of issues, I talk about my background growing up deaf, my journey into politics, the note taking support service I use for parliamentary work, captioning, dealing with the media, the role of NZSL in NZ and Deaf culture, accessible buildings, supporting people with disabilities into parliament, employment for disabled people and investing in our children so all children can access an education.
The podcast for the interview can be found here and a transcript is below.
(NB: The MP for Christchurch East is Labour’s Poto Williams, not Mojo as stated in the interview)
Transcript of interview between Arrow FM ‘Wheels on Fire’ hosts Matt & Vanessa and Mojo Mathers (MM)
Matt: And Vanessa’s here, unfortunately Corrine isn’t with us today, which is a bit of a bummer because we have a really special guest here in the studio with us. I’d like to introduce Christchurch East MP Mojo Mathers who’s here to talk to us about becoming an MP and the experience of that, and I’m sure it will be a really awesome show. So welcome in, Mojo, and thank you so much for joining us because you’ve come all the way over from Wellington this morning, so thank you for making the huge effort.
MM: Hi Mark, thanks for inviting me, I’m pleased to be here. I’ve actually flown up from Christchurch this morning and then driven up from Wellington.
Matt: Oh you’re kidding, oh wow! I didn’t realize that, that’s even more of an effort, far out. Anyway, Mojo can you just give us a little bit of background about yourself maybe to start off, for the listeners?
MM: Sure, I’d be very happy to. I was born profoundly deaf as the result of a difficult labour, my mother had a very difficult labour with me. But she was not aware that my hearing had been impacted upon, so it wasn’t picked up until I was two and a half when the kindergarten teachers said to my mother: do you realize that your daughter cannot hear, and that is why she’s not speaking yet? And so at that point I was fitted out with hearing aides, and these days they were big boxes that you wore strapped onto a harness.
Matt: Yeah absolutely, I remember those.
MM: Yeah, really cumbersome.
Matt: Hideous things.
MM: Yeah. So I absolutely hated them to tell the truth, and it took a bit of convincing to get me to wear them.
Matt: Absolutely. So you’ve always been deaf?
MM: So yeah, always been deaf. And growing up I was told that I would never be able to wear ear levels behind the hearing aide, and I was very upset by that. But fortunately technology progressed and eventually as a teenager I was able to have ear levels. I can’t tell you how happy I was for that.
Matt: Yeah, what a difference that must have made. I mean technology must have been a huge part for you right throughout your life, to help you function as an individual.
MM: Oh absolutely. And there was another major breakthrough when email became standardized so that you didn’t have to rely on the telephone, which I’ve never really been able to use until very recently.
Matt: I know we’ve had a fair few emails flying backwards and forwards between us. So thank you for tolerating those as well while we’ve been trying to organise the interview today, it’s been an awesome process for me and I was just absolutely blown away that you even said yes, so there you go. So can you tell us a little bit about where you came from originally, and how you came to be settled in Christchurch?
MM: Yes. I was born in England, but my family came to New Zealand when I was 14. We first settled in Hawkes Bay and I went to Karamu High School, and there was a deaf unit there. I was actually mainstreamed but I went to the deaf unit for speech therapy lessons because at that point in time it was still quite hard for people to understand me. So we did a lot, many, many hours of speech therapy to get me to articulate the sounds that I can’t hear in speech, which includes a lot of the consonants like t and f and so on, and these sounds I can’t hear so I had to be shown how to make them, and then practice and practice. And when I was 18 I shifted to Christchurch to go to Canterbury University, and I started off doing mathematics, then I did a mathematics Honours degree, but then I shifted over to do conservation ecology at the School of Forestry and I did a Master’s degree there. So that’s eventually how I got involved with politics, because of my passion for environmental issues.
Matt: That was my next question, so what led you into politics?
MM: Well, I was probably very unaware of politics for most of my life until my family and I with small children moved out to the country, to a rural area. That was in Canterbury, and there was a proposal for a massive dam right beside the village that was going to flood a valley with a very special QE II reserve on it, of very special ecological value. And so I joined a group called the Dam Action Group, and we decided to try and fight this dam, and eventually actually we were successful in that the dam did not go ahead, although the irrigation proposal is still going ahead. But they’re protecting the valley and the five generations of farmers who have farmed in that valley, and it was a real win for us.
Matt: Absolutely. What sort of obstacles have you found since become an MP? Were there any sort of obstacles that could have stopped you becoming an MP, because of your disability or-?
MM: Well, I mean, when I became an MP of course there was a big public debate around the funding of the electronic note takers that I need in order to be able to follow the debate in the debating chamber and to participate in the Select Committees. And so I’m not sure if you’re aware how that works, but basically what it means is that I have a laptop in front of me in the debating chamber, and in another room outside, away, people are listening to the debate in Parliament, and they’re typing into their computer, with software, and they’re transcribing what is being said and that comes up on a screen in front of me in the debating chamber. So without that I couldn’t participate because it’s just not possible to lip-read people across a large distance, and so that’s been absolutely vital in order to participate. But initially there was quite some debate around how they would be funded, and I argued very strongly that this should come out of the general Parliamentary Services budget, because this was a service to Members of Parliament to do their work, just in the same way as there is a multi-million dollar sound system for the hearing Members of Parliament to follow the debate there that I can’t access. And just in the same way that there is Maori translation of what is being said, you know, Maori into English, so there’s special headphones for people that want to listen to the translations in the chamber as well. So there’s lots of services that are provided, and I said I’m not going to be the only Member of Parliament who’s deaf or who has a hearing loss who’s going to need this service.
Matt: Absolutely, because I mean the fact that you were New Zealand’s first deaf MP, I mean that must have been huge in itself and probably, like I mean I’ve done a little bit of research, but you’d be one of the few MPs in the entire world.
MM: There’s five of us worldwide. And in fact last year there was a conference in Sydney of the World Federation for Deaf, and there was a number of the deaf Members of Parliament from other parts of the world – including Europe and South Africa – who were there, and it was really fantastic to meet them and we all did a presentation about our work as Members of Parliament.
Matt: Oh wow.
MM: So yeah, it’s been really big, but at the same time it highlighted that Parliament wasn’t really geared to cope with someone who needed accommodating as a Member of Parliament. And the reality is the House of Parliament is meant to be representative of New Zealand, and one in five New Zealanders have a disability and yet they’re not being reflected in the make up of Parliament, so their voice is not being heard in the debate. So it’s really, really important that we have Members of Parliament who have a disability and have that voice in Parliament. I mean just imagine, think back to when there were no women in Parliament and that voice of women was missing in Parliament. That’s unthinkable nowadays, and then I think in the future it will become unthinkable that there would be no voice for disability in Parliament.
Matt: So how did that make you feel initially, that you couldn’t actually get heard within Parliament without the technology? Because I mean there was a huge debate around providing it, but like you say it’s essential for you to be part of democracy, really.
MM: I just knew it was incredibly important that we won that debate, because it was about what Parliament looks like in the future, it was about disability in general. It wasn’t just about me, it was about opening the way for other Members of Parliament with disabilities to be able to do their work. And in fact there’s now been a law change to ensure that there’s funding for future MPs who have a physical or sensory disability, that their needs will be provided for. That’s now, the law has been changed as a result. And the other big win that happened directly as a result is that Parliament has committed to captioning of Parliament television, so currently if you watch Parliament television it’s not captioned, and they’ve been working on getting a captioning system set up, a live captioning system set up for Parliament television, and that’s to start in about a year’s time.
Matt: Oh wow, that’s quite a big breakthrough in itself, but particularly for someone who’s deaf to be able to watch-
MM: Or hearing impaired. I mean there’s more than 200,000 New Zealanders with some hearing impairments who will be able to now access the political debate live, and I think that’s really, really important.
Matt: And I mean really I think most programmes should be captioned, not only for people with disabilities that are deaf but I mean anyone right across the board, it may make it easier if things are captioned just as a matter of course.
MM: Absolutely. New Zealand has one of the lowest rates of captioned broadcast television in the world. It compares very poorly with other countries. One of the things I would really love to see is [inaudible 11:23] of captioning brought in, so that all of the larger TV programmes are captioned. It’s very frustrating for me as a politician not to be able to watch popular programmes like Campbell Live or TV3 News because they’re not captioned.
Matt: Yeah. So can you talk us through some of the changes that have been made within Parliament that have been made as a result of you becoming New Zealand’s first deaf MP?
MM: Well obviously there have been two types of changes. The first has been the provision of the electronic note-taking service. But the other one is actually around attitudes and being prepared to be flexible, because the note-taking service has a time delay. So what it means is if you move Parliament at its usual pace, or the Select Committee, I can’t always, I can miss the opportunity to vote or to have my say and so on. But all of the parties have been incredibly constructive in that. It’s brilliant, it’s awesome. So if I ask a question in the House of one of the Ministers, because they know beforehand that I’m going to ask that question they will shift where they’re sitting to be as close as they can get to where I am, so that I can actually lip read them and I’m not completely reliant on the note-takers, which is really helpful.
Matt: Oh that’s awesome.
MM: Yes. And in a Select Committee I once missed the vote and they retook the vote in order that I could cast my vote, and stuff like that. So there have been some very positive and constructive flexibilities shown by most people.
Matt: That was one of the things I was going to ask, has the environment within Parliament itself changed to accommodate you?
Matt: It must’ve been a fiery environment beforehand.
MM: Oh it still is, I mean you’ll be sitting there in the debating chamber with people shouting across at each other, and so yes. But I still feel that there’s more awareness of disability and disability issues amongst Members of Parliament directly as a result.
Matt: So what are some of the highlights since you’ve been- ?
MM: I think for me personally it has been the incredibly warm reception from the disability community right across the country, and not just people with disabilities but parents of children with disabilities, young people with disabilities, or caregivers and so on. They all know how big it is in their lives, if they themselves or their loved ones or a member of their family can’t access or participate in society because of people’s attitudes or because of structural barriers such as buildings being inaccessible. The flood of emails and contacts that I’ve had as a result, I mean sometimes it’s been difficult to keep on top of all of that. But I’ve travelled all around the country from Whangarei in the Far North to Invercargill to meet with different disability groups and so on, and that has been very humbling but rewarding as well.
Matt: I mean it must have been quite an empowering process for you to actually be able to make change within the whole disability sector, particularly with the amount of people that you would come across.
MM: Well it’s been fantastic to make some change, but I want to be able to leave a legacy that goes beyond me. I want to see more people with disabilities elected into Parliament, I have offered support to any member of any of the political parties who has a disability and wishes to, has aspirations to be a Member of Parliament. Because I think we need that, right across all the political parties we need that disability voice heard.
Matt: So I think the awareness is probably more out there as a result of you being in Parliament.
MM: I hope so, and that’s certainly my sense.
Matt: The changes that you’ve made as an individual, I think most people with disabilities would think it’s not possible for them to be an MP but it is. What advice would you give anybody with a disability who’s seeking to get a career in Parliament?
MM: Well I think it’s, the problem is that a lot of people with disabilities are very used to able-bodied people speaking on their behalf, and in a way even though it’s often done with the best of intentions able-bodied people don’t realize it can be very disempowering for people with disabilities if they only can rely on able-bodied people to speak on their behalf. And so it’s really important that we have disabled leaders speaking on behalf of disabled people so that voice can really come through, and recognize the leadership that already exists in the disability sector and give it the recognition and the value that it deserves.
Matt: And also there’s probably still a lot of doing for rather than doing with, for people with disabilities. I mean I think that’s the key, is really just to get out there and have a go and just try and be as independent as possible.
MM: I think it’s particularly important for our young people nowadays, because often older people who’ve lived with disability all their lives have been conditioned that you can’t aspire to leadership roles, whereas young people are much more open to the idea that they could be empowered to go for what they want to do and reach their full potential. And so for parents of young people with disabilities they feel like there’s nothing to stop my child doing what they want to do, and I think that’s really, really important. I mean obviously it’s hard work, obviously you still have to have the skills, but it means that we need to make sure that there’s no systematic barrier in the way, that people don’t automatically rule themselves out of taking on jobs because of society’s attitudes and perceptions about what disabled people can or can’t do.
Matt: So are there any particular barriers that you’ve faced as an MP?
MM: Oh yes, I mean all the time. For example, every morning the Green Party media team and MPs have a conference call to discuss what news releases they’re going to put out for the day, what questions we’re going to ask in Parliament, and I have not found a way of being able to participate in these calls when I’m not in Parliament. If I’m in Parliament I’m in the room with most of them so I can follow, with the help of the New Zealand Relay Service. But because it’s so fast, it’s not possible if I’m trying to phone in from home. So we have to work around some of these things. And obviously sometimes the media want to ring me and grab a quick comment from me on an issue. Now last year there was a new telephone service came out called the CapTel telephone, which is a brilliant service that allows you to see what is being said on a screen in front of you. And I can do radio interviews with that but I have to be at one of these phones, so I have to either be at my office or at home. If I’m somewhere else I can’t do a radio interview because I can’t do one on my cell phone. And so there are restrictions still, and I just have to work around them as best as I can.
Matt: Yes. I reckon we better bring Vanessa in, she’s been very quiet over there beavering away on the desk, but I think we need to bring Vanessa in to ask some questions.
Vanessa: Hey I don’t mind.
Matt: You don’t mind?
Vanessa: No I don’t mind! Welcome to Mojo to the radio station. It’s really great hearing some of the things that you do to make a difference, really, for all of us people and things like that. So I just wanted to ask you, what are some of the highlights you have had as an MP, particularly when advocating for people with disabilities?
MM: Well I’m always really thrilled when I raise an issue and there’s a policy change as a result of that. I’ve already touched on a couple of these earlier, but there’s another one I was very pleased with. I was at a conference and someone approached me who had Cerebral Palsy. And at the speech at the conference I had talked about how there’s a fantastic service called the Text 111 service for deaf people, so if you register for it we can text the police if we need them, or the fire or the ambulance. This person with Cerebral Palsy said I need access to that service, because I have a speech impediment and I can’t use the phone to speak clearly, but they won’t allow me to register for it. And I said oh, that’s not ok, you should be able to access this service as well. So we contacted a TV journalist, the story ran on television and a couple of weeks later, the criteria were changed so that people with speech impediments and other needs could also register for the 111 service. So these small little things are really very-
Vanessa: Make a difference,
MM: Yeah, really make a difference in people’s lives and are very satisfying when I feel like I can do something for them.
Vanessa: So how do you go about getting that system? Do you have to go through WINZ or- ?
MM: Well it depends on the nature of the thing, some of these changes require legislation, so it means that when a bill comes up we have to make sure we read it with a kind of eye for how is this going to affect disabled people? What changes do we need to make to make it work for disabled people? So that’s one way, participating in the process. But some of these changes, like the Text 111 service was just a policy change, so it’s about working with the media to highlight the issue and very often there’ll be a policy change as a result of the issue being highlighted in the media.
Vanessa: I think that’s quite important though isn’t it, with getting it out there with the media so that other people are aware of it.
MM: Yeah, there are some fantastic people in the media who are very aware of disability issues and want to work and are prepared to work constructively to not be patronizing. Because that’s really, really important, that we don’t want to feed that [feeling 23:02] that disabled people are helpless and so on. We want to do it in a positive, empowering way.
Vanessa: Absolutely, that’s the one thing that we come across, don’t we.
Matt: I mean I think you really want to make a difference. And like you just said, for disabled people themselves as individuals to be empowered, because that in itself has been a slow process for some people to actually find their voice and become empowered. And as a result of you being an MP I think attitudes are really changing, which is huge.
MM: Well one of the key messages which I always really try and get across when I’m talking to people about creating a more accessible society is the fact an accessible society benefits everyone. Everyone is better off and disabled people are included. Because we have an ageing population, and we have temporary impairment for people, so if we have a very inclusive and accessible society everyone’s better off. And inaccessibility doesn’t just affect disabled people, it affects their families, it affects their friends, it has significant ramifications. And they have a valuable part to play in society, so when they’re not contributing we are missing out on the skills and abilities of disabled people. So I really push that message, that there’s so much that we have to offer and that society really is better off. I mean take the Text 111 service, for example. People just think oh, deaf people need access to that to keep themselves safe, but actually there have been now a significant number of examples where deaf people have witnessed hearing people being mugged or assaulted and have texted the police to call for help for these people. And so it’s helped make society safer for hearing people as well as deaf people, because deaf people are now being able to call for help on their behalf.
Vanessa: Absolutely. Can you explain a little bit about the deaf community and culture in New Zealand?
MM: Well I mean, I was not brought up using sign language. In fact the school for deaf that I attended for a number of years in England banned the use of sign language, you were absolutely prohibited. And for some of the children attending that school it was really tough because sign language was their first language at home, they were children of deaf parents and that was how they communicated, and then when they got to this school they weren’t allowed to. But that was a common thing worldwide, that many deaf people were denied access to their own language. And because sign language is a visual language, it’s very expressive, it’s very visual, it’s a beautiful language, and it’s an incredibly important part of deaf culture. The core of that is their language, is sign language, and it’s fabulous in New Zealand that New Zealand Sign Language is one of the three official languages in New Zealand, that’s fantastic. But deaf people are still really struggling to access the right to have an education in sign language and access to interpreters for things like health services and so on, it’s a real struggle. So although we have got that official language status it’s not being resourced the way it needs to be to ensure equal access for deaf people.
Vanessa: Well I think it should be out there and brought in so that everyone gets equal rights.
MM: Absolutely, and it’s a beautiful language. Young people love it because they can use it for communicating in a noisy pub or something like that.
Vanessa: Yeah. Or if you want to have a secret conversation with somebody and everyone else doesn’t know how to sign.
Matt: Well probably generally if you’re communicating with it in a pub it’s probably not appropriate sign language. But that’s one of the things I’ve always wanted to do, Mojo, is actually learn sign language so that I can more effectively communicate with people with disabilities. Not only just the deaf, because everybody uses it. But I’ve never actually found-
MM: Well Deaf Aotearoa, during Sign Language Week, runs taster classes throughout New Zealand. So if you’re interested in having a taster class, a free taster class, just to give you a taste of how to introduce yourself, and say your name in sign language.
Vanessa: I only know how to do hi and bye and things like that, all the basic stuff. I reckon it’s an important language to learn, it’s really great. So what are some of the Green Party’s policies that could benefit the disability sector in New Zealand?
MM: Well New Zealand has signed the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and this basically affirms that disabled people have the right to participate in society on an equal basis with able bodied people, as everyone else. So that means the right to access services, the right to an education, the right to access buildings, and so on and so on. We’ve got the same rights as everyone else and it’s basically affirming that, and the Green Party is absolutely committed to making that real. We’ve acknowledged these rights but we haven’t yet made them real in New Zealand. We still have up to 24,000 buildings that don’t have disability access, and we’re talking about public buildings, we’re talking about sports venues, all sorts of things that are locking out disabled people from participating in society, from accessing social and-
Matt: I didn’t realize it was quite that bad Mojo, that’s quite scary still.
MM: Yeah, and we’re probably going to move backwards with access to physical buildings because the government is just passing a bill at the moment which includes the clause that will no longer require building owners to upgrade for disability access when they do earthquake strengthening. And in the past they’ve always been required to upgrade for disability access, and they’re looking at removing that, and we say that’s not ok. Because they’ve got lots of time to upgrade, they’ve got lots of time to plan for that, and it’s only a small part of that process.
Matt: And I mean particularly if those individuals are needing to rebuild, doesn’t it make sense to make your buildings more accessible while you’ve got the opportunity to start from the ground up, to include people with disabilities? Because like you say I mean a lot of them are public places and people with disabilities still want to use public places.
MM: Absolutely, and they have the right to do that.
Matt: They should have the right to, I mean it’s really just a basic human right.
MM: Absolutely, we see it as a basic human rights issue, and that as signatories to the Convention we need to make that right real, we need to hold onto that.
Vanessa: We do. Because it’s pretty archaic with the buildings, you know how you can’t access places.
MM: Well we have heaps of old buildings, and the requirement to upgrade for disability access, initially they were going to have to upgrade disability access regardless of whether they were doing earthquake strengthening. And then they said no, no, that’s too hard, let’s do it when we do earthquake strengthening because it’ll be cheaper that way. And now they’re going oh well you don’t have to do it at all, and I think hang on, no, you’ve had many, many years to upgrade, it’s not ok. So we’re strongly opposing that part because we believe that we can have buildings that are both safe and accessible, and that’s what we need to be aspiring to as a country.
Matt: Absolutely. So how can people with disabilities make a difference to maybe changing the attitude of government around that then, Mojo?
MM: Well, one of the things, there are a number of disabled persons’ organisations in New Zealand. For example there’s the Disabled Persons’ Assembly, there’s Deaf Aotearoa, the Hearing Association. All these different organisations have a special status under the Convention as being organisations that are run by disabled people for disabled people, and they do incredibly hard work making submissions on these bills and so on, on behalf of disabled people. So I would encourage people to support their disabled organisation in that work, because the stronger they are the stronger their voice is in Parliament and the more lobbying power they have. So that would be one way of taking action.
Vanessa: So one thing I wanted to know, it might be a tricky one, do you need qualifications to become an MP or what sort of things do you need, if you were thinking of going into-?
MM: If you were thinking of going into politics presumably you would have a party that you support. So the first thing to do is be involved with your party, find out what the attitude toward disabled people standing for selection is and get known within that party and become active.
Vanessa: Fight for your rights, pretty much.
MM: Yeah, I mean that’s how people usually get in, and your best chance usually is to get in on the list although some people will still stand for selection in a seat. But the thing is about lobbying your party to take disability seriously and to demonstrate that they’re taking disability seriously by how they run their disabled candidate. So I’m aware of, in other parties, that there are people coming forward, who are putting themselves forward. It’s now up to these parties to give these people a ranking that they deserve.
Vanessa: Oh right, because I often wondered about that. Because I thought as I was growing up there’s not enough being done for people with disabilities, so I thought what if I make a change and then, well I got busy anyway so I never really thought about it.
MM: I mean when I first joined the Green Party, I joined the Green Party because I was passionate about the environment. But then I found that actually if I wanted to speak about the environment as a deaf person, I had to change attitudes towards deaf MPs, the idea of having someone deaf who is a candidate. So it took the Green Party quite a while, some of the membership quite a while to get their head around that.
Matt: So was that like even within the party itself, even before you kind of-?
MM: Oh definitely at first, I mean we’re talking ten years ago now. But yeah there were people saying how can a deaf person be an MP? How can they do that? You won’t be able to hear the division bells, you won’t be able to participate in the debating chamber. So there was quite a bit of concern about that, and it takes time to change attitudes.
Matt: So what was your response to that then Mojo? Because I think it really is all about attitude eh.
MM: It was hard, but the really good thing that it did was make me embrace disability issues, because prior to that I’d only seen myself as an environmentalist with a conservation degree. And it kind of opened my eyes and I had to claim my identity as a deaf person and actually say ok, these people have concerns, how am I going to address these concerns directly? So in a way it made me look at the bigger picture.
Vanessa: So what do you see as the biggest stigma and discrimination issue facing disabled people today?
MM: Employment. Wherever I go it’s employment, it really, really is. And especially for young people who have grown up with a disability, it’s like what are their options for the future? Society tends to lock these people into a box and say you cannot ever aspire to a career.
Vanessa: Become a Prime Minister or something like that [laughs].
MM: [laughs] Well no I mean even just simply careers and good incomes and secure jobs. And the stories that I’ve been told as I’ve travelled around the country are heartbreaking, some of them, and so many of them are just about attitudes. It’s not like there’s any major change required it’s just about employers being understanding and prepared to make a small change and be of reasonable accommodation, and recognize the potential of people with disabilities, that they can bring to the workforce. So I think that’s the biggest barrier because without any prospect of employment people’s self esteem goes down, they get locked at low poverty levels and their health suffers and so on, and it’s just so wrong.
Vanessa: Shocking, yeah.
Matt: I mean I quite often think that really it’s not disabled people that disable themselves, it’s society’s attitudes towards disabled people.
Vanessa: That’s so right.
MM: Totally, absolutely. I would totally go along with that. Like one story that I could tell you involves a deaf man who was fit, strong and capable, but for nearly 20 years he could not get a job and was on the benefit. And one day he had had enough. He sat down in the middle of the WINZ office and he folded his arms and he said I’m not leaving, I want a job, I’m not leaving until you find me a job. And the WINZ staff ran around and said oh no! What do we do? And then they got him a job as a kitchen hand and it was like, finally, now he’s been working there for several years and he’s happy and he’s got employment. But it should not have taken him 20 years to get that job. And the reason why he wasn’t getting a job, for people who are deaf, employers say health and safety. We can’t employ you because you can’t hear and that’s a health and safety issue. And that’s just so wrong and we’ve got to change that understanding.
Vanessa: We do. I mean I’ve noticed that as a person personally myself. I had work when I was in Tauranga, I was working as a promotions person just promoting a photography place and that was great. And then after that I just went through so many job interviews and they just like look and went no, and I thought well what is it? Is it me as a person? And I would ask them, and they don’t have to say anything, and I just got discouraged by that and I thought no, you know I’m going to try and do some voluntary work, which is just as good as you know being employed. And I did some of that and I did a few hours working at the local community centre, which is great, and I’m still there doing voluntary work. So it’s great that they’ve acknowledged that a person with a disability can get out there and work.
MM: Absolutely, but it shouldn’t be so hard to get a foot in the door in the first place for people with disabilities
Vanessa: I think a lot of people do actually look at the person and they don’t even-
Matt: They see the disability first, rather than the person. Because for me, a prime example was a few years ago I went for a position here in the Wairarapa and got into the interview process, which was actually one of my first interviews that I’d actually got into, so I thought that was a big step for me myself. And I was actually supported by – I’m sure he won’t mind me mentioning this – Shane from Wairarapa Stars Trust. Now for those who know Shane he’s actually blind, and Shane went into the room before I did and they thought they were interviewing Shane for the position and then I sort of rolled in casually behind and said well you’re actually interviewing me for the position and the person looked at me and said “well you won’t be able to do the job because of this, this and this”, because all they’d seen initially was the wheelchair. And I said hang on how about actually sitting back and acknowledging some of the skills that I’ve got without telling me the skills I haven’t got and reasons why I can’t do the job before the interview has even started.
MM: Absolutely, so the concept of a positive interview that focuses on what skills people have who are being interviewed is incredibly important for people with disabilities, and it’s an incredibly important part of the process. So one of the areas where more disabled people could be employed is in the public service sector. And so one of the things that I would really like to see is a guaranteed interview process for people with disabilities applying, so that they’re not automatically screened out before they get to the interview stage, and that their interview has to be a positive interview that focuses on what skills and strengths they’ve got, and I think these simple things could actually change the outcome of a lot of interviews.
Vanessa: I think instead of saying I don’t think you can do it, they should ask the question: so what can we do for you to make it a doable situation for you? Instead of assuming, coming to the assumption of well you can’t do it. It’s like, well, my brain can work, I’m quite intelligent, I’ve got the skills so why not?
MM: Absolutely, that’s exactly the kind of change that we need to see, and I think the public sector needs to model that for the private sector and that’s not happening at the moment. So that’s one of the things I’m sort of working on is a package around employment for disabled people.
Vanessa: We look forward to seeing that one don’t we, that’ll be exciting.
Matt: Absolutely. Now have you got any music lined up over there Vanessa, yet, or not quite?
Vanessa: I have indeed, I’m really prepared today.
Matt: I’m just thinking, we’ve just been chatting and it’s just been so easy but we’ve forgotten to play some music, we better play some music and have a-
Vanessa: That’s cool, but before we do that I’d like to say thank you to the Masterton District Council for funding our programme, I mean without you guys we wouldn’t be here chatting to Mojo Mathers and having all these awesome guests coming onto our show. So thank you Masterton District Council.
MM: And thank you for providing such a welcoming interview, thank you very much.
Vanessa: Oh you’re welcome, we try to do that for all our guests.
[music track 42:55 – 45:42]
Matt: Bohemian Rhapsody on Arrow FM 92.7 your community access radio station.
If you’ve just joined us this is Wheels on Fire, today with Vanessa and Matt, unfortunately [Beauche’s] not with us, which is a blimmin bummer for her really because we’ve got an awesome guest here in the studio – Mojo Mathers, Green MP from Christchurch Central, so once again Mojo thanks for coming to join us. I understand you’ve come all the way from Christchurch this morning, and I thought you were just coming from Wellington, so that’s even more of an epic effort to be here today, so yeah thanks.
MM: That’s my pleasure.
Matt: We were talking a little bit off-air particularly around your education, because when you were going through university you had no support.
MM: That’s right. The only bit of technology I did have that my parents had bought for me was a radio link, so that the lecturers wear a microphone around their neck and that would have a direct link to my hearing aide through a radio wave, which helps a little bit but only a bit. And so some of the courses were difficult if they didn’t have a textbook, for example, that I could work on in my own time. But I’m very pleased that nowadays most students have better support than that. For example, Victoria University runs a very good disability support service whereby they meet with students with disabilities and access needs and find out what they can do to support them to ensure they can take the courses and so on. And that is incredibly important, because accessing a good education is the first step, often, to accessing employment further down the track. But there are still some challenges and often these centre around lack of understanding about the needs of students with disabilities. For example, deaf students might be asked to sit an exam where they’ve got to watch a video that’s not captioned, and that makes it really hard because of course they can’t follow what’s being said on the video so how can they answer questions that relate to the video?
Matt: Absolutely. I mean it’s just basic, everyday things that other people take for granted, that we don’t even necessarily think about as individuals, because if it doesn’t affect us some of the time it doesn’t matter. But it does.
MM: Absolutely, so some of it is about educating people – in the health sector, in the education sector and so on – around the kind of things they need to think about and be more aware of.
Matt: Like particularly with technology, what sort of technology do you use as an individual to help you on an everyday basis?
MM: Well there are some amazing things that can be done with technology. There are students studying for degrees who can’t write, for example, and they use voice recognition software or a special software that tracks their head movements in order to be able to select words and compose essays and so on. So there are some incredible things that can be done for all sorts of disabilities that in the past would never have been possible. And then these people go on to do some amazing bits of research or stuff like that, so it’s an absolute win-win because these people get an education and they are able to contribute their skills and their intelligence to solving problems for other people.
Matt: So what sort of policies do the Green Party have to help assist people with disabilities to lead everyday lives?
MM: Well, I think it’s incredibly important that we recognize the barriers that exist in society to participation for disabled people, and these barriers need to be removed. So whether we’re talking about being able to access a building or being able to access information, we need to identify these barriers and be really committed to removing them so that disabled people can access education, can access information, can access buildings. Because they’re all connected, because if you can’t access a building then you can’t get a job in that building, and so on. So it just starts from a basic premise that disabled people have the same right to access services, to access the public infrastructure as everyone else. And if we start from that basic premise, everything else follows as a consequence. What happens is that people keep making excuses and saying oh no, we can’t do it because it’s too hard, and I always just think they’re not being creative enough and they’re not being committed enough to recognizing the human rights of people with disabilities.
Matt: Yes. I mean I was just thinking really for me growing up, right through my family have been a huge level of support and a huge advocate for me, particularly for fighting for any sort of equipment that I’ve needed as a person with a disability to lead an everyday life. So just how important has your family been to you in that process?
MM: Incredibly important. I mean without my mother I would have never been able to access an education the way that I have, because it was my mother who taught me to speak, and it was my mother who in particular taught me to read, so she played an incredibly important role in my early life and because I had a love of reading I therefore got a good grasp of English and the English language, and it set me on a positive track for education.
Matt: Yeah. I mean I think really for anybody communication is the key, so I mean you’ve had extra barriers around communication as well which is just hugely inspiring that you’ve got as far as what you have as an MP and as an individual.
MM: But it wouldn’t have been possible without support. I had support from my mother, I had support from my family, and I had support of a good, high quality, free public education, both in England and in New Zealand. And committed teachers who understood deafness and what needed to be done to progress education for deaf students. These are the kind of committed people we need in education and need to be properly resourced by the government. Because the reality is if we don’t do that then we end up with people with hearing loss not achieving and some of them even go on to end up in prisons and so on, because they have not, they’ve always been sort of left behind in the classroom and they end up as angry, frustrated adults who’ve got nothing to do with themselves, and unable to fit into society. So the more we invest in our children, all of our children to reach their potential, and particularly children with disabilities, the better the future they will have.
Matt: Yeah true. So we’re just about coming to the end of Wheels on Fire, I can’t believe how fast it’s gone, with one song!
Vanessa: Hey that’s ok, that’s what makes a good interview, it’s been awesome.
Matt: Absolutely. So is there anything else that you want to cover today Mojo?
MM: Just that I really love being a Member of Parliament. I feel very proud and humbled to be representing disabled people in Parliament and I do the best that I can, but just remember I’m only one of a hundred and twenty Members of Parliament, so I really look forward to having a strong team come and join me in Parliament one day.
Matt: Absolutely. And outside of politics, what do you do to keep yourself well?
MM: I like pottering around the garden, walking my dog, I’m an animal lover, animal welfare is one of my other portfolios that I’m really passionate about. I love walking in the bush or on the beach, that sort of thing, enjoying the outdoors.
Matt: Because we were going to ask you about the portfolios that you do cover in Parliament.
MM: Well my priority portfolios are disability and animal welfare. I have a range of other portfolios as well, such as Civil Defence and so on, but these are the two top priorities.
Matt: Oh cool. So if anybody wants to make contact with you, if there’s been any issues that have been brought up today, how do they go about it?
MM: The simplest way is either to email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, or to contact me through Facebook, friend me on Facebook and private message me.
Matt: Awesome and I know that she’s already liked Arrow FM’s Facebook page, so thanks heaps Mojo for doing that.
Vanessa: Thank you so much Mojo, it’s been an awesome privilege to have you here and we wish you all the best on your travels back, and let’s go Green Party!
MM: Thank you!
Matt: I almost feel like we could do another interview, but maybe that’s for another week.
Vanessa: Yeah, another week, maybe later. Alright time to wrap it up guys, bye!
Matt: Bye! Thanks Mojo!