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Media release - Whaikaha announcement on 18 March effectively cuts access to essential communication technology for people with disabilities

26 March 2024

Media release for immediate use

Whaikaha announcement on 18 March effectively cuts access to essential communication technology for people with disabilities

Thousands of New Zealanders rely on assistive technology to meet their communication needs due to speech, motor, and other disabilities. Changes to equipment provision announced on 18th March mean that many will struggle to access this technology.

Communication assistive technology (CAT level 1 and CAT level 2) solutions are funded through Whaikaha’s Equipment and Modification System (EMS).  Last week it was announced that a prioritisation process is required, effective immediately, to be completed by all accredited specialist assessors for all equipment requests. Those who do not meet the new priority criteria will remain on a waitlist until funds are available.

Assistive communication equipment allows disabled people of all ages to tell people that they love them, ask for what they need, talk directly to their doctors, ask questions in school, and all the everyday things we take for granted until you are unable to effectively communicate through sign language or speech.  Many people are unable to fully develop their communication and language skills without timely, ongoing access to this type of equipment.

We also know that access to needed communication equipment is essential for safety.  This equipment allows people to tell others what they need, make decisions, report abuse, and ask for help. 

We believe that the announced changes will cause disabled people to go without essential technology and services. This is in effect a cut of essential services and equipment.

Communication is vital to access healthcare and disability support. Therefore, we also predict additional, negative flow on effects from these cuts.

Our members spend their professional days meeting people and seeing first-hand the impact Communication Assistive Technology can have. 

Our members are concerned that the new prioritisation tool is extremely limited and difficult to interpret. The “imminent harm” criteria is particularly challenging.  Depending on interpretation, it could include or exclude the vast majority of funding applications.   Everyone is at risk of harm if they cannot effectively communicate, particularly if harm includes emotional, psychological, and physical harm. 

People are already waiting years for publicly funded CAT1 and CAT2 assessments. This will add further delays to issuing essential equipment.  

Our association’s members are the only professionals in Aotearoa who are accredited to assess, trial, and find solutions to ensure that disabled New Zealanders have the specialised equipment they need to communicate face-to-face, write, and/or control things in their home like light switches and the TV.  Speech-language Therapists and Occupational Therapists do additional training, peer supervision, and accreditation to complete these CAT1 and CAT2 assessments.

Disabled people and our members are rightly concerned about the impact the announced changes will have.  People are already experiencing long delays. There are known significant negative impacts for disabled people who are waiting for or unable to access this type of assistive technology for communication.

Access to communication is a human right and essential for education, mental wellbeing, independence, employment, and living a good life.

For more information contact:

ATANZ at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Note:

The Assistive Technology Alliance New Zealand (ATANZ) Trust is a registered Charitable Trust (CC26828)

ATANZ aims to promote Assistive Technology by ensuring quality assistive technology service provision through the establishment and monitoring of best practice assistive technology standards. Our vision is that every person in New Zealand who needs assistive technology, has access to excellent services and support.

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