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Hearing loss sufferers take ACC to Human Rights Commission

2012-09-04

New Zealanders suffering from hearing loss have taken the first step towards changing an ACC threshold that they say is discriminatory and a breach of human rights.

Under current ACC thresholds a person must have a hearing loss of at least six percent before the organisation will consider a claim.

A group of people with hearing loss injuries, represented by the National Foundation for the Deaf, took their complaint to the Human Rights Commission - which has accepted their claim of discrimination and invited ACC to mediation.

If the mediation is rejected by ACC, the claimants can apply to escalate their case to a class action.

National Foundation for the Deaf chief executive Louise Carroll spoke to Firstline this morning about why it’s so important to have the threshold changed.

She says while six percent hearing loss may sound like a small amount, it has a high impact on those affected – a group who “rightfully should” be getting assistance from ACC.

“With industrial noise-induced hearing loss it affects the region of our hearing that interprets human voice range… it’s a significant functional impairment because people cannot understand [the human voice] clearly when there’s background noise,” she says.

 The majority of people affected by industrial hearing loss are blue-collar workers between 50 and 70.

 Ms Carroll says this age group are “the most vulnerable” as when they were in the workforce low importance was placed on hearing protection.

“They’ve worked in factories and in industry where… the science and the understanding wasn’t there that hearing protection was vital, and the end result is that these people have paid their ACC premiums and they now need help and they’re being denied it.”

Ms Carroll says the National Foundation for the Deaf is prepared to take the process “all the way” to create a change in the ACC threshold.

“Thousands of New Zealanders are being affected and New Zealand isn’t a country that abuses human rights, but it is in this instance,” she says.

While a change in the threshold will be a cost to ACC, Ms Carroll says the cost of not rehabilitating people affected by hearing loss is a greater one.

“It’s an even greater cost to the country if we don’t do this, because in reality what’s happening is it’s cost shifting through to other community services for people who are becoming isolated, people who are becoming depressed, and all these other issues that will arise as a result of them not having hearing rehabilitation and support.”

 

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