New Ministry for Disabled People planned

By Heta Gardiner

The government is to establish a Ministry for Disabled People.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni and Health Minister Andrew Little unveiled their plans when they appeared on a live stream a short time ago.

The name of the ministry is yet to be determined but will be called the Ministry for Disabled People until an official name has been recognised. In coming weeks an establishment unit for disability system transformation will be set up to launch the new ministry. It will undertake a work programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Health among others.

“The new ministry will be responsible for driving better outcomes for all disabled, leading cross-government strategic disability policy, delivering and transforming disability support services, and progressing disability system transformation,” Sepuloni said.

Sector support

Janice Lee runs a business called Koha Kai, which helps disabled people into jobs and supports them to live a more independent life. She believes the establishment of an independent ministry will change lives. “This is going to signal the biggest transformation for the disability sector since the 1970s,” Lee said.

Ruth Jones and her husband started He Whakapiki Mauri, a Whānau Ora initiative that brings Māori with disabilities and their whānau together to support each other using a Te Ao Māori approach. She was also on the working group that helped advise the government. She was emotional about the work that was done to get to this point. 

“My husband and I both have disabilities, we’re both Māori. We want to be both of those things and have a good life. We’ve worked really hard to pay it forward so other disabled Māori have a good life. We’ve had a good life, we’ve worked really hard to achieve that. This is us paying it forward now,” Lee said, holding back tears. 

Years in the making

Helen Leahy from Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu, who was also part of the working group, says this is decades in the making. “Actually it’s back to 1999, when Ruth Dyson, who was the first Minister for Disabilities, who went to the United Nations, and involved people like Robert Martin, who were pioneers, bringing the voice of intellectually disabled people, to the convention of the right of disabled peoples, so it literally has been decades,” Leahy said.