A new text service has been launched to help members of the disabled community get vaccinated, but advocates say it has come 18 months too late.
People who are Deaf or hard of hearing can text the number 8988 from Thursday to access vaccine information, book an appointment, or organise transport to get vaccinated.
Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni said the service has been started in response to feedback from the disability community.
“We’re making it easier for the Deaf, hard of hearing community and others who may be speech impaired to get vaccinated,” she said
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“As we take steps towards more freedoms as a fully vaccinated Aotearoa NZ, we’re committed to ensuring that our vaccination programme continues to be as accessible and inclusive as possible to all New Zealanders.”
The service will be run by Whakarongorau Aotearoa, a phone and web-based counselling service.
It will be staffed by a team who are either living with a disability, have close whānau with a disability, or have extensive experience working with the disabled community.
But National Foundation for Deaf and Hard of Hearing chief executive Natasha Gallardo said the service has come too late.
“That’s going to assist a very small percentage right now to get vaccinated, it should have been something that was considered right at the beginning,” she said.
“I think that all the way we’ve seen the Deaf and hard of hearing community continually be isolated and really an afterthought.”
Deaf Aotearoa chief executive Lachlan Keating agreed the service would have been more helpful if it was available earlier.
“Very early on in the pandemic we raised the option that Deaf people could benefit from using a text service,” he said.
Sepuloni said the Covid Vaccination Healthline already offers dedicated phone and email support for disabled people and people living with impairments to get their vaccination.
“The text functionality is a new service for the vaccination line and has taken time to ensure that we’re meeting expectations of the community,” she said.
“This included co-design and development with members of the community, and testing to ensure it met expected quality and safety standards, so there is confidence that the service will be successful.”
There are 37,269 people supported by disability services and ACC in New Zealand, and of these people 86 per cent have had their first vaccine dose, and 79 per cent have been fully vaccinated as of November 21.