Ministry for Disabled People to enable neglected voices

By Stefan Dimitrof

The new Ministry of Disabled People – Whaikaha has launched to help realign and prioritise the rights of disabled people.

Whaikaha means enabling and it will be the first government agency to have three names in English, Māori and New Zealand Sign Language.

Estimates have found 24 per cent of New Zealanders live with a disability. But it's 33 per cent of Māori and, by the age of 40, that number rises to 68 per cent.

'Pushing it ever since'

Academic and disability rights lawyer Dr Huhana Hickey, (Ngāti Tāhinga, Whakatōhea) said it was important the new ministry existed as a point of contact for disabled people to the government while providing the ability to recommend policy.

“This is a ministry but it isn’t going to be a ministry like any other that we have seen before.”

Hickey said she had been fighting for many decades for change.

“I remember a conversation with Ruth Dyson back in 2000, with her telling me that we’ll never see a ministry and we’d never see legislation in this area and I took this as a wero and I’ve been pushing it ever since.”

'Participate in any part of society'

Hickey said “if we could take the personal out of the political, then the issues could be debated without the emotional rubbish. I think that we could go a long way”.

Hickey believes that one day that disability will one day become a part of New Zealand’s identity allowing disabled persons to participate in any part of society “without the barriers we have now.”

“We just want to live our lives the same way that you do.”