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Disability and the Law

NZ $35.00
This book is only available in PDF format
Author(s): Dr Anne Bray, Philip Recordon
Published: 21 August, 2001
Pages: 132



The interaction of the law and people with disabilities involves two diverse areas of discourse, concerns, and knowledge. The purpose of this seminar is to focus on the two perspectives and to improve legal understanding and practice in some of the more difficult areas of law affecting the rights of people with disabilities.

From the viewpoint of people with disabilities, the law is often perceived to fail to protect and promote their aspirations to personal autonomy, equal opportunity and full participation in society. Among the reasons for these difficulties are the following:
  • the law itself sometimes contains discriminatory clauses about disability, which are out-of-date with current knowledge;
  • the professions of law and medicine have historically had inordinate and unquestioned degrees of power and control over the “diagnosis” of disability and the control of disabled people’s lives;
  • “expert” evidence provided to the court, relating to a disabled person, often fails to meet the legal standards for expertise;
  • traditional legal concepts of incapacity and incompetence do not match current knowledge and understanding of people’s abilities to make their own decisions;
  • lawyers receive little training in disability issues and thus rely on lay myths and stereotypes about people with disabilities;
  • people whose expressive communication is impaired are often assumed to lack capacity to reason and make their own decisions;
  • there is a tendency by the legal and medical professions to equate physical dependence with lack of personal autonomy over life decisions;
  • implementation of the law tends to over emphasise protection of the disabled person, at the expense of the protection of the disabled person’s rights.

These issues which concern people with disabilities need to be understood as part of an international movement to promote their equal human rights, as set out in international covenants and treaties for all individuals. Special international conventions have been developed for other vulnerable groups such as women, children, different racial or ethnic groups. In most countries, disabled people are the most numerous and most vulnerable group in the population. However, while international pressure and activities promoting the rights of disabled people have been ongoing for the past 25 years, the United Nations has not yet passed an international treaty to provide special protection for the human rights of disabled people.

In New Zealand, a number of groups of disabled people are vocal in representing their aspirations, with the Assembly of People with Disabilities (DPA) providing a strong, united voice for all disabled people. People who have intellectual disabilities (mental retardation) are also becoming more informed and active in asserting their rights, through “People First” groups throughout New Zealand.

The most difficult area in the interface between the law and people with disabilities is when individuals have (or are assumed to have) significant incapacity which affects their ability to exercise their basic autonomy rights. How can the law best ensure that people’s rights over their person and property are protected? There is considerable research evidence to show that disabled people are at risk for exploitation and abuse. These increased risks are particularly high for those people whose disability affects their understanding or ability to communicate.


Content outline

  • Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988
  • Interacting legislation
  • Who may be the subjects of applications to the Court?
  • The personal welfare provisions of the PPPR Act
  • The property provisions of the PPPR Act
  • Enduring powers of attorney in relation to personal care and welfare
  • Practical advice for counsel for applicant when commencing the PPPR Act process
  • Roles of other professionals
  • Personal viewpoints
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