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A forty year dream has been realised with the establishment of Whaikaha – the Ministry for Disabled People. Now the hard work begins.
Parliament’s Banquet Hall was the venue for the launch of Whaikaha – the Ministry for Disabled People – at the same time the government’s new wide-ranging health reforms were kicking in.
Plans for the new ministry were confirmed back in October last year with minister Carmel Sepuloni at the helm.
“Very emotional actually today, because I’ve heard the voices of disabled people very strongly over the last five years,” Sepuloni says.
“I don’t know if many of them thought that it would be dream they’d see coming to fruition – having their own ministry – and so, wonderful to be in a room with so many who I’ve worked with and now that will work with minister Williams to actually see this happen.”
Sepuloni’s colleague Poto Williams takes over as the Minister for Disability Issues and the new ministry. She knows there’s plenty to do in the coming months.
“The first thing we need to do is make sure we bring everything across successfully; there should be no difference in experience for disabled people from Day one,” she says.
“But we need to do a little bit of scaffolding work to ensure the implementation of the work going forward including the roll-out of Enabling Good Lives happens successfully and consistently across the country.”
Around a million people in New Zealand are classified as having disability of some sort, and while the new ministry will help to streamline services for them, it’s also hoped it will be better able to reach smaller communities, including the Pacific community.
“For too long disabled people haven’t been well represented and being able to affect what needs to happen in their lives but that is particularly important for Pacific people because there hasn’t been a great deal of understanding about, you know, the needs of Pacific Islands people,” Williams says.
For their part, Pacific disabled people who attended the launch welcome the new ministry and hope it brings an era of change.
Disability advocate Kramer Hoeflich says, “for me as a disabled person, it’s a great first step towards getting a better future for us with a disability because it means we’ve got our own Government (ministry) now in which we can start tackling issues directly impacting us.”
Disability youth advocate Lavinia Lovo hopes the new ministry can put youth issues to the fore especially in the areas of employment and youth representation.
For her Part, Minister Sepuloni acknowledged that this was only the start.
“What we finally have is the structure in place and a government system that takes disabled people seriously which will help with speeding up the pace of progress that disabled people have been calling for, for so long.”