Concern over high unemployment rate for Kiwis with disabilities

The Disability Rights Commissioner says she's deeply concerned by the number of disabled Kiwis out of work.

Forty-two percent of young disabled New Zealanders are out of employment, education or training, while only 25.2 percent of all disabled Kiwis of working age are employed or looking for work.

"It's a huge loss of talent and commitment to our workforce," says NZ Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero.

"At a time when the economy is performing really well this suggests that it's not about opportunities but, more alarmingly, I think it's about the attitudes and beliefs that people have around employing disabled people," says Ms Tesoriero.

Ms Tesoriero acknowledges there are companies who don't discriminate. Earlier this year Z Energy employed 35-year-old Luhama Niu, who has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair.

"I tried for so many years to get a job," says Ms Niu. "They just saw a person in a wheelchair and they didn't know what I was capable of." 

Ms Niu is thought to be one of the only people in a wheelchair working in a service station in New Zealand. She's currently stocking shelves and greeting customers, but her boss says the plan is to make the counter area wheelchair-friendly so she can work behind the till.

"I'm definitely a better person for myself, and believe in myself a bit more than what I did when I didn't have a job," she says.

Ms Niu says working has motivated her in other areas of her life. She's lost 80kg and her confidence has improved.

Ms Tesoriero says there are benefits in employing people with disabilities.

"They're loyal and stay in jobs longer than other people in the workforce.

"Young disabled Kiwis have the same dreams and aspirations as all young Kiwis, and it's really important that New Zealand takes an approach where we can help young disabled Kiwis achieve their dreams."