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Ministry of Disabled People - Whaikaha: ‘There is so much more to do’

William Sangster

Whaikaha - one year on: ‘There is so much more to do’

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

One year since the inception of the Ministry of Disabled People (Whaikaha), its chief executive acknowledges “there is so much more to do”.

The government established Whaikaha to focus on disability support and serve as the main point of contact for those with disabilities who use Disability Support Services (DSS).

Since July 2022, CE Paula Tesoriero says its achievements are many.

However, some disability advocates have given Whaikaha an early pass mark, but say more could be done.

Tesoriero says achievements in the first year include:

  • Transferring support that was previously under the old Ministry of Health to Whaikaha.

  • Implementing UN recommendations for disability rights with other agencies.

  • Working with the Ministry of Education on the third edition of the Autism Guidelines.

  • Creating a framework that supports offenders with an intellectual disability.

A ‘’diversionary pathway’' within the latter framework gives judges the option of placing people in care and rehabilitation instead of prison or a psychiatric hospitals. About 250 people have been diverted.

Paula Tesoriero, chief executive Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People. Photo / Mark Tantrum

Tesoriero says they have been laying the foundation for the future.

“(We are) setting up the systems and processes, and ways of working for a brand new organisation — it turns out that takes a lot of time, so that’s been a key thing that we’ve done.”

Whaikaha has made sure that people with disabilities are represented in the ministry.

They have 70 disabled employees, accounting for about 40 per cent of the 178 staff.

“We’re recruiting for a new organisational structure and quite a large number of roles.

“So we’d anticipate even more disabled people working at the ministry. Because, you know, obviously representation matters and bringing that lens where that just makes our work embedded and an understanding of disability rights and disability issues.”

Cerebral Palsy advocate Amy Hogan. Photo / Supplied

Amy Hogan, a Cerebral Palsy Society representative, is optimistic about the start of Whaikaha but remains concerned.

Hogan says there is “tremendous potential” in the ministry’'s focus on a holistic approach for positive change and improved outcomes.

However, she said it was crucial “to establish mechanisms and strategies that can help sustain the progress achieved thus far.

“This may involve building strong alliances, fostering bipartisan support, and advocating for the long-term sustainability of the ministry’s initiatives.”

Katy Thomas (Te Rarawa, Te Aupōuri, Ngati Porou), an advocate for Access Matters, believes the ministry can do more to improve people’s lives in the community.

“We needed $2 billion to get started this year. We didn’t even get half that. So when the next budget rolls around, that deficit should be accounted for - next year we will need $3B-$4B.

Thomas wants to see $200m allocated to housing and investment in language and communication methods.

“We need to foster disabled languages and communication methods, cultures and identities. The Pacific Languages Strategy received $13.3 million total operating, te reo Māori revitalisation $10.4 million - we need similar budgets.’’

Tesoriero acknowledges that Whaikaha can still be improved.

“We will be doing more across the government to influence some of those areas that make a real difference in our lives, like housing, education, employment, and transport, really focusing on the areas that matter the most to disabled people and their families.”

The ministry is looking to implement the next phase of the Enabling Good Lives (EGL) rollout.

EGL gives disabled people more say in the support they receive.

Whaikaha also wants to grow in the Maori and Pacific disability communities, Tesoriero says.

“This includes setting up systems and processes that enable us to amplify the voice of tāngata whaikaha Māori, and embed Te Tiriti o Waitangi in Whaikaha.”

Tesoriero says an example is My Home, My Choice, a programme which aims to change the way people in residential services are assisted so that they have more choice and control over their lives.

As the new ministry enters its second year, Tesoriero hopes that the disabled community will take an active interest, “and gets involved in some of the work that we’re doing, and also continues to advocate.

“We need disabled people in all spaces and places for our community to thrive and move forward together.”

Hero image: Disabled persons advocate Katy Thomas with her family. Photo / Supplied

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