Launch People First New Zealand

  • Ruth Dyson
Disability Issues

Disability Issues Minister Ruth Dyson
Address People First New Zealand Banquet Hall, Parliament, Wellington 4.30pm, Thursday 16 October 2003

Rau rangatira maa,
tenei te mihi ki a koutou i runga i te kaupapa o te ra.
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

[Distinguished guests, greetings to you gathered here for this purpose today. Greetings once, twice, three times to you all.]

Greetings and welcome to your Parliament.


As the Minister for Disability Issues, I feel honoured to be speaking at the official launch of People First New Zealand, Nga Tangata Tuatahi. Your establishment as an independent organisation is a courageous and challenging move for all concerned, and an exciting and positive step for self-advocacy in New Zealand. Well done!

People First has been active in New Zealand for nearly 20 years.
Over 50 local groups operate around the country, providing a way for people with intellectual disabilities to meet, discuss the things that affect them, and speak on their own behalf.

Now these groups will have an even stronger platform from which the voices of people with disabilities can be heard. It will do much to promote the rights of people with intellectual disabilities to speak for themselves and make their own choices.

Establishment of People First
The drive for People First to become independent began about 18 months ago, and I want to congratulate a number of the people and agencies involved:
·Jan Dowland and Jeff Saunders from IHC who set up a steering group to oversee the change, and the members of that group;
·IHC, the Ministry of Health, and the JR McKenzie Trust for providing funding;
·Ruth Gerzon, who was employed by IHC as a full-time project officer to manage the process; and
·People First members themselves, who recognised that the time had come to ‘leave home’.

People First is now an incorporated body with a constitution and mission, a new chief executive, Bernadette Moses, and a national committee chaired by Michael Aldridge.

Bernadette has been very active in the movement towards greater independence for people with disabilities. One of her first public jobs as your new chief executive was to speak last month at the launch of the National Health Committee’s report “To Have An Ordinary Life”. She gave an impressive presentation, and I feel sure that you have chosen an excellent leader, who will do a great job for you all.

Michael is chair of the national committee, which will have a governance role and include regional presidents elected by local groups in each of the six People First regions.

Michael and I were together on another significant occasion. Two years ago we shared the podium after the celebratory People First march following the announcement of the government’s decision to close the Kimberley Centre in Levin.

This decision was in no small part due to the efforts of People First. Indeed, getting people with intellectual disabilities out of institutions and into the community was one of the organisation’s first big concerns. Members worked with DPA on a successful campaign to close Kimberley, and organised a petition to government.

I think it is fair to say that the march was a significant turning point in people’s consciousness of the potential of People First, and a catalyst in your drive for independence.

I am pleased to say that 10 people have now left Kimberley, and plans are on track to resettle 50 residents in the community by Christmas. While this process has been slower than some might have wished, my priority is to ensure that appropriate support is in place for each person before they leave Kimberley, and I am confident that this is occurring.

Your links with Kimberley continue. Josie Khoury of Wanganui, a member of the steering group to establish an independent People First, and one of your members, Jonathan Pickering of Levin, are both consumer reps on the Kimberley working group.

Next steps
As well as building up the organisation and its branches, and providing advocacy and support for people with intellectual disabilities, I know the concerns of People First include:
·housing options and living in the community of your choice ;
·increased access to education and training; and
·opportunities for ‘real work’ and participation in recreation.

The government is addressing these issues, which all contribute to the right of people with disabilities to live in the community like everyone else, and to participate fully.

The report ”To Have an Ordinary Life: Community Membership for Adults with an Intellectual Disability”, released by the National Health Committee last month, sent a clear and resounding message – that people with intellectual disabilities simply want an ordinary life: one in which they are taken seriously, have choices, and are fully participating members of their community.

I will work closely with the Office for Disability Issues, my ministerial colleagues, the National Health Committee, service providers, self advocates and families to ensure this happens, using the New Zealand Disability Strategy as our guide.

When a group of people with intellectual disabilities started People First in the United States in 1973, they chose the name to show that their disabilities were secondary to their personhood.

Today, People First groups, and similar self-advocacy groups, have about 17,000 members in over 40 countries.
This official launch of People First New Zealand, Nga Tangata Tuatahi, is proof of the self-advocacy movement’s growing success. I know the organisation will continue to move from strength to strength, and I look forward to working closely with Bernadette, the national committee, and People First members.

Thank you.