Speech on Disability System Transformation and Accessibility

Introduction

Mālō nī, Talofa lava, Malo e lelei, Bula Vinaka [sign language] Tēnā koutou,, Tēnā koutou, Tēnā koutou katoa, and warm Pacific greetings to you all.

Today, Minister Little and I are laying out the details of the Government’s Disability System Transformation, and the steps we’re taking to make Aotearoa New Zealand more accessible.

Can I begin by acknowledging Dan Buckingham and his team for helping us deliver today’s virtual event.

The Delta variant has forced us all to work and communicate a little differently. That’s why we’ve had to change tackt, and as much as I would’ve liked for us to gather in person, I’m pleased that with the support of Attitude TV, we’re able to meet in this way.

Making this announcement as accessible as possible has been a priority. So, to all those joining us on the live stream – welcome.

Setting the scene

In early 2012 I had the privilege of being appointed to the role of CEO for Vaka Tautua, a national Pacific disability, mental health and older persons support organisation. 

There was a lot for me to get my head around in taking up this role, not least of which was this pilot that was being run, a new approach to disability support, ‘Enabling Good Lives’.

The pilot was being touted as a game changer – finally a model that would provide disabled people with choice and control.

There was a broad understanding that the pilot would lead to nationwide disability systems transformation.  It was a matter of when, not if. 

Many of you who are tuning into this announcement have informed and been part of the Enabling Good Lives and Disability Systems Transformation journey. 

As was pointed out to me this week by Tristram Ingham, some who were proponents for these changes, are no longer with us today. 

I acknowledge each and every one of you that continue the fight and those that have passed, for the contribution that you have made and the role that you have played. 

A role that in many instances extends back before the time of when Enabling Good Lives was conceptualised. 

Some of you were active in informing the UN Convention of the Rights of Disabled Persons, developing the NZ Disability Strategy, writing the NZ Disability Action Plans and making NZ Sign Language an official language through Legislation.

This is just some of the integral and transformational work that you can take responsibility for. 

Thank you on behalf of the Government but also the estimated 1.1 million disabled people in Aotearoa who you represent and serve.

Ministry for Disabled People

The goals and aspirations of disabled people are at the heart of today’s announcement.

As we continue to lay the foundations for a better future and towards a non-disabling society, today we are pleased to announce a suite of transformative changes to the disability system, including a new and innovative approach to meaningfully improved accessibility in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Please bear with me while I talk you through some of the changes.

Firstly, a new Independent agency – an agency that has yet to be officially named but for now we will call - The Ministry for Disabled People .

The new Ministry will be independent, have a Chief Executive and will be supported by the Ministry for Social Development.

The new Ministry will be responsible for driving better outcomes for all disabled people, leading cross-government strategic disability policy, delivering and transforming Disability Support Services, and progressing Disability System Transformation.

Partnership with disabled people and whānau will be a ‘top table’ issue for the new Ministry, a key priority for its leadership team, and a key measure for assessing its success.

This will start with a disabled person and whānau-led governance structure.

The new Ministry will become an integral part of the machinery of government, leading to the realisation of a true partnership between the disability community and government.

Many of you have been calling for this Ministry for a long time.  Most recently a compelling case was put to me from the Pacific Disability Community via The Tofa Mamao Collective.  I hope today’s decision confirms for you that we have been listening.

Collectively, we will continue to drive ongoing transformation of the disability system in line with the Enabling Good Lives approach. The detail of the EGL part of this announcement will be elaborated on shortly by Minister Little.

But for now let me move to another key part of today’s announcement.

Accelerating Accessibility

We know that many disabled people continue to experience barriers, not just in access to built environments but also access to things like public transportation, education, health, information and communication services, and events.

I have met numerous disabled people across the country who want greater opportunities to participate more fully in their communities.  The burden of responsibility for overcoming participation barriers too often falls unevenly on individual disabled persons and their whānau.

Too often their ability to live life to the fullest and contribute to their full capacity, is blocked due to the inaccessibility of so many spaces and places.   

But what we also know, is that removing the accessibility barriers faced by disabled people benefits across society – not just for our disabled community but for other New Zealanders - our seniors, parents with young children, people who do not have English as a first language – to name a few.

So today we are announcing our new approach to accessibility through stand-alone legislation and establishing an Accessibility Governance Board.

New stand-alone legislation will set out a framework for a progressive approach to identifying, preventing, and removing barriers to participation.

The Accessibility for New Zealanders Bill will include a suite of measures like;

  • methodologies for addressing accessibility barriers,
  • monitoring, evaluation and reporting requirements,
  • expectations for engaging with and listening to disabled people;
  • and a purpose and principles that will guide the accessibility framework.

Legislation will commit the current and future governments to ongoing promotion, and improvement to accessibility in New Zealand.

The new Accessibility Governance Board will be led by and represent disabled people, play an important role in working with Government to improve and elevate accessibility, set policy statements and monitor progress.

I acknowledge that accessibility is one of the key principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Accelerating Accessibility work programme is a practical way in which we can honour this section of the Convention.

This underlines the absolute importance of ensuring disabled people continue to be involved in decision making at the highest level possible.

I want to particularly acknowledge the Access Alliance for partnering with Government on this work. 

We may not have landed in exactly the same place but we certainly have progressed this kaupapa to become a reality. 

And that really leads us on to – next steps. 

In the coming weeks, an Establishment Unit for Disability System Transformation will be established to stand up the new Ministry.

They’ll undertake a work programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, working through the elements of what the new Ministry will look like, and the ongoing transformation of disability support services.

Over the next few months, targeted engagement and consultation will take place with the disabled community and sector, whānau, Māori, iwi leaders and Pacific.

A key focus will not only be about locking down the detail of these changes but also ensuring that disabled people are not worse off during the transition period.

The Unit will facilitate important conversations on key policy aspects such as the name of the new Ministry and future transformation opportunities once the new Ministry is established.

MSD will also work alongside the disabled community on the name and make-up of the Accessibility Governance Board, and how we can embed Te Tiriti o Waitangi and reflect Te Ao Māori across all elements of accessibility and the system.

Having the offer of support extended to us by National Iwi Leaders Chairs and the Māori Health Authority gives me confidence that we can do this and do this right.

I aim to report back to Cabinet on progress early next year.

Concluding Remarks

To conclude, I cannot state enough how grateful we are to those who have informed all of the changes being announced today – including the integral elements to be announced by Minister Little shortly. 

These changes are a reflection of decades of hard work and advocacy from across the sector.

It’s been a long journey for many of you and these changes aren’t the end of it – they are they are the beginning of the next leg.

Hopefully you haven’t exhausted yourself in the previous leg because we need you to continue partnering with us. 

That will be the only way we can achieve our shared vision of transforming Aotearoa into a non-disabling society. One where we can proudly champion the inclusivity and accessibility of the place we all call home.

He waka eke noa – we are all in this together.

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.