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Monday, April 15, 2024
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A visible place in the world

Working as a census collector allowed Emma Pike the opportunity to provide “an accurate picture” of her hometown – and “be seen” in her community.

The Masterton resident was one of a team recruited by Stats NZ as part of its “static collector” initiative – providing support with the 2023 census from community spaces throughout the region.

The static collector initiative, piloted in Wairarapa and rolled throughout the Wellington region, targeted people who experience mobility challenges or barriers to finding employment. These included disabled people, those who are pregnant or with young children, or without access to transport.

Static collectors were recruited in partnership with Work and Income, and worked out of libraries, education centres, or iSites. There, as well as distributing and collecting census forms, they were able to assist with any questions or concerns people had about “New Zealand’s biggest survey”.

Pike, a wheelchair user, divided her time as a collector between Masterton District Library and the student support centre at UCOL Te Pūkenga Wairarapa – and held a stall at the recent Ageing With Attitude expo, organised by Wairarapa Age Concern.

Wairarapa census area manager Graham Streatfield said the initiative created an opportunity for people who didn’t fit the “typical census collector profile”.

“The usual model would be someone fit and healthy, who can carry large quantities of paper over long distances. Which can exclude a lot of people,” he said.

“The static collector initiative has allowed people who might otherwise struggle to find work to be part of something significant for the country.”

Pike said working as a static collector was “a great opportunity” – which allowed her to visibly participate in the community.

“I feel like I was able to be seen. And disabled people don’t always get that chance,” Pike said.

“It’s important for disabled people to be visible out and about in public spaces, like libraries or university campuses. It shows people what we’re capable of, and that we have a place in the world. It shows we’re able to work and that we can fit into a workplace.

“I feel this could open a lot of doors.”

In Wairarapa, static collectors are based at all five public libraries, the Citizens Advice Bureau, Masterton iSite, REAP Wairarapa and UCOL.

Streatfield said the static collector initiative was particularly well received by library users – as, for many Wairarapa locals, their library is often their “first port of call”.

“A lot of people would come into the Masterton Library with questions,” Pike said.

“For example, they’d be feeling stressed because their forms had been damaged by rain, or weather interruptions meant they hadn’t got their packs in the mail, or they weren’t sure how to access [the survey] online. Some people hadn’t done the census before, so they weren’t sure how to go about it.

“They’d ask the librarians – they could refer them to us, and we’d be able to sort them out.”

As a person with a disability, it was important to Pike to help as many people as possible “be counted” – as accurate data means the government can improve support services for diverse communities.

“If the government has the correct information, it can allocate more accurate funding to services. And they can’t do that if they don’t know we’re out there.

“Based on that information, the government can provide more accessible and affordable options for disabled people. For example, more accessible housing. At the moment, you can’t make renovations to rental properties, like accessible bathroom facilities or permanent ramps. A lot of new housing developments have two storeys, making them inaccessible to a lot of people.

“For me, it was rewarding to help give an accurate picture of what my community looks like.”

    Census collectors, including static collectors, will be available in the community until Saturday, May 13.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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