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My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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ACC Slashing Home And Vehicle Modification Funds – Unconscionable

Yesterday, I heard that ACC was planning to cut funding for home modifications (such as ramps, grab bar, widening doorways, etc) and vehicle modifications (like hand-controls, lifts, ramps, etc) for newly injured individuals. This is part of the wider cuts they are imposing on the system. Some of these cuts make sense (such as stopping payment when the injury is self-inflicted rather than an accident). Others are not so logical. But this particular cut has outraged me.

Here is a copy of a letter I have sent this morning to the Honourable Dr. Nick Smith, Minister for ACC. I also have sent a copy of this letter to Hon. Tariana Turia, Minister for Disability Issues, to Editorials at The Dominion Post, and to the Editor of the Manawatu Standard.

19 October 2009.

Dear Dr. Smith,

To say I am dismayed at the news that ACC will eliminate or substantially reduce the funds required for home or vehicle modification after a disabling injury would be an understatement.

I worked in disability services and advocacy for several years in the United States . I was in Chicago ( Illinois ) and in Savannah ( Georgia ). One of the biggest issues our clients encountered was the inability to pay for home and vehicle modification after a disabling injury. Another was the inability of getting back in one’s own home after rehabilitation, which causes enormous problems, both for the individual concerned and for their family. Being unable to drive reduces independence drastically and also drains family resources. This particular proposed change impacts not only on each individual who is injured, but on their families. You will, in fact, punish entire families because of an injury one member of that family has endured, at a time when the stresses are as high as possible.

In my experience, people who require home modifications after a disabling injury are usually unable to afford to pay for those modifications themselves. They need the modifications to be able to move back into their home and be able to function. If they can’t get funded for home modifications, and can’t afford to pay for these themselves, they are likely to need to move elsewhere, incurring high costs, if they can find an accessible place. While there is legislation requiring public buildings to be accessible, there is no such provision for dwellings. Finding accessible housing is extremely difficult to start with. It is unreasonable to demand that a recently disabled person hunts for that elusive place. When rehab has finished (and there is no more funding to keep them there), and they are unable to move into their own home, and they can’t find alternative accessible housing, what happens? They either end up in a "nursing home", or on the street.

As for vehicle modifications, they are also indispensable to people’s independence and ability to return to work. Having a disability in and of itself is no barrier to employment. Being unable to get to work on time, or at all, most certainly is a barrier to employment. By refusing to fund vehicle modification, you are condemning individuals to remain at home (if they are lucky enough to be able to stay in their own homes). Public transit is notoriously unreliable for people requiring accessible transportation. So that funding cut ensures that people with disabilities will continue to be unemployable.

For an individual and their family to cope with a disabling injury is difficult enough. But the added stresses of being unable to go home, and of being unable to get around often are the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – Families are destroyed that way. What happens when dad, who is now paraplegic, has to say to his son that he can’t drive him to his rugby match because he can’t afford the $2,000 required to put hand controls in the car? What happens when mum is unable to go home and as a result unable to care for her two children under the age of 4? What happens when the son of the family needs bathing, but his parents can’t even get him in the bathroom because they can not afford home modifications? What happens when the only thing keeping a man out of work is his inability to drive there? For the sake of a few hundred dollars you are condemning him to be on benefits. It does not make sense, not from a financial point of view, much less from a human point of view.

While I understand that serious reforms are required for ACC, this particular change is outrageous and unconscionable. You simply can not continue on this path.

I would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience to discuss these issues further.


Signed: Nicolas Steenhout

So now, I wait and see when, and if, Dr Smith gets back to me.

4 thoughts on “ACC Slashing Home And Vehicle Modification Funds – Unconscionable

  1. Well, here’s the autoresponder I got:

    “On behalf of Hon Dr Nick Smith thank you for your email. Your correspondence has been noted and will be recorded.

    All correspondence, including email, is routed through our mail tracking process. Although e-mail increases the speed of delivery, the “behind-the-scenes” efforts of the Minister’s staff in responding to mail cannot always provide the kind of speedy response users of email may anticipate.

    While the minister considers all correspondence to be important, if it is obvious that you are writing only to express a personal view your opinion will be noted but a response beyond this acknowledgement may not be sent.

    Kind regards”

    I have the feeling this is the last I hear of him

  2. Great blog, very informative for those who do not have disabled friends/family. My stepfather had an accident many years ago and can do fantastic things like drive himself around due to his modified car. Come on National don’t punish the people with long time injuries to save a few $$

  3. Great letter, Nic. The government isn’t thinking clearly on this and other issues. Perhaps this reflects the panic they are in about the size of the deficit. Someone who has just suffered serious injury can’t possibly be in DIY mode….and may well have lost their job.

  4. Congratulations on a great letter Nic. It gets right to the heart of the matter of how a disabling society is created. Its also at odds with the vision of a nondisabling society contained within the NZDS.

    And ACC is not broke – it made an operating surplus of $1billion last year. Its just that the ideologues want to have it prepaid for the next 40 years. The whole ACC “crisis” is manufactured -part of the ploy to sell it off to your mates.

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