'A fitting end to a bizarre year' - Rebekah Corlett, honoured as advocate for children with disabilities

By Marena Mane
Rebekah Corlett, with daughter Sophia.  Photo / Supplied

Rebekah Helen Corlett of Ngāti Porou was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit on New Year’s for her services to education. The honour recognises her championing of the rights to education for children with disabilities since 2015.

Corlett says she received an email about the honour and thought it was an email scam.

“I originally thought it was an elaborate email scam, then expected a letter apologising for a clerical error - but got letters from the Governor-General and Prime Minister instead,” she says.

Sophia, Corlett's 13-year-old daughter, is tangata whaitakiwātanga (autistic). Corlett is an outspoken advocate for Sophia and all children with additional needs - as well as their whanau - for a more inclusive, accessible and equitable educational system.

“I gladly give my time to advocate for families and amplify the voices of disabled and neurodiverse ākonga (students). Everything I do is motivated by my love and admiration for my children Sophia and Ryan.”

“I want their world to be big and full of adventures - with no barriers to their participation,” Corlett says.

To provide a voice for rangatahi with communication challenges, Corlett argues they need better access to AAC (alternative augmentative communication) devices.

“There is currently no Te Reo function on these devices, so the synthetic voice these devices use sounds Australian.”

“My dream is for Sophia to be able to recite her pepeha with her AAC talker with confidence, and for her AAC voice to reflect the voices of her tūpuna (ancestors) and her community.”

Corlett congratulates all recipients on this year's New Year Honours List.

“I am especially stoked to share this experience with so many amazing Wāhine Toa - in particular my VIPS Equity in Education ‘partner in crime’ Frian Wadia, whose fearless advocacy style and commitment to her mahi always pushes me to do more.”

Corlett’s background

Corlett is a blogger on Facebook with I am Rebekah Corlett and coordinator of the 'Very Important Parents Equity in Education New Zealand' Facebook group for parents and families of children and young people with learning disabilities, providing advice and resources of all the latest information to more than 4,000 members. 

She has been a member of the governing committee of Inclusive Education Action Group since 2017 and was a member of the consumer panel for Autism New Zealand between 2017 and 2020. 

Corlett was a member of the Mahinawa Specialist School’s Board of Trustees between 2015 and 2018. 

She is a contributor and member of Awhi Ngā Mātua, an online community for parents of children with disabilities and Arts Access Aotearoa. 

Corlett spoke at a parliamentary breakfast in 2019 for World Autism Day on assistive technology and active participation. 

She has been organising sensory events for children with learning needs in Kāpiti since 2015 and has been advocating for access to augmentative and alternative communication devices to help children with communication difficulties. 

Corlett has been a member of the Consumer Advisory Panel for Altogether Autism since 2020, publishing articles for their e-magazine and presenting workshops on working with autistic learners.