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Whangārei internship could create significant ‘societal change’

William Sangster

Internship could create significant 'societal change'

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

A Whangārei disability service believes its new employment programme for people with disabilities has the potential to create significant “societal change” in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Disability services charity NorthAble Matapuna Hauora has seen success with its Āhei Program.

Āhei recently won the prestigious Dianne Rangi Memorial Award for innovation at an annual national conference.

Āhei internship programme is for tāngata whaikaha (people with disabilities) across Whangārei.

It includes a capability-building programme, and members are placed with a business for a six-month work internship.

Adam Dade, chief operations officer for NorthAble, believes Āhei can potentially create significant “societal change” throughout Aotearoa.

“[We can create change] both in how people see tāngata whaikaha as a potential member of the workforce and improve on the shocking employment statistics that they currently have.”

Currently, only 40 per cent of people identifying as disabled are employed.

While similar internship approaches exist worldwide, Āhei focuses on Aotearoa and Te Tai Tokerau.

The programme is currently working with its second intern cohort.

The Diane Rāngi Memorial Award. Photo / Supplied

“We are aspiring to achieve, with these fundamentally being based around the inclusion of tāngata whaikaha (people with disabilities), having the opportunity to move into the paid workforce,” Dade said.

“Within this, there are many positive changes that take place, such as increased wellbeing, feeling a sense of purpose.”

Aston Donker, 16, is on placement at Equipment +, NorthAble’s retail shop.

Donker lives with high-functioning autism and experiences anxiety when interacting with people.

He recounts sitting at home on his phone all day while unemployed, feeling depressed.

Donker says Āhei has given him opportunities to grow.

“My work placement with Āhei, I feel like I was given more time to settle in and slowly ease into the world of retail.

“I am able to work in an environment where I feel supported and can demonstrate my skills and capabilities.”

Āhei Project co-ordinator Kris Finlayson says Aston’s growth is “absolutely phenomenal”.

“I have no doubt whatsoever, that when he starts a paid employment role, he will make an excellent, hard-working, motivated team member who takes initiative when he sees a task that needs to be done.

“Aston is living proof that employers should feel encouraged to actively hire staff with disabilities.”

Four more Āhei cohorts are planned.

“The opportunities and potential our Āhei programme creates for tāngata whaikaha, who offer so much to our community and employers, are huge.”

Āhei is currently funded for two years of delivery through He Poutama Rangatahi, a work-readiness and skills initiative.

NorthAble and the Āhei team are always looking for businesses to host internships. To find out if this is something that could benefit your business, call NorthAble on 0508 637 200 or email

Hero image: Aston Donker and EQ+ manager Zelde Morrison-Smith. Photo / Supplied

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