'Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People' launched

Laura James
Source: 1News

Over one million Kiwis living with a disability now officially have their own ministry.

The new government department launched on Friday, kick-starting with an event at Parliament featuring a moving kapa haka performance from a group of intellectually disabled people.

The new ministry's been named Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People.

It'll be the first ministry to have a NZ Sign Language name, however the Government told 1News the sign hasn't yet been finalised.

The preferred person to lead the ministry isn't ready yet either, with an interim leader appointed.

Geraldine Wood is the temporary appointee, and it's unclear how long she'll be at the helm.

READ MORE: New disability ministry to launch Friday - is it ready?

The Public Service Commission has been running an independent recruitment process for the permanent role, and says its top choice for chief executive is a Disabled person.

They'll be the first Disabled Kiwi to be a Ministry Chief Executive, which advocates are calling "momentous" and "unprecedented".

The Public Service Commission says there's a delay in finalising the appointment due to the personal circumstances of the candidate.

Outgoing Disability Minister Carmel Sepuloni said: "It was never that everything was going to be in place on day one."

But she's adamant the ministry is still ready to go.

"The disabled community has waited decades for this moment," she said.

It's a significant time for the new Disability Minister Poto Williams to be taking over.

Asked about what comes next, Williams said: "From this point we're going to engage the community fully to establish what the next steps, the priorities are."

Wood couldn't say how long she'd be filling in as chief executive.

"The hope is the preferred candidate will get through the process in a short time."

In the meantime she believes she can get the ball rolling.

She has the support of the Ministry Establishment Governance group, made up of Kiwis with lived experience with Disability.

"I think I can achieve consolidating the people in the ministry... I can start supporting the connection of that and how we connect back out to the wider disabled community."

As of Friday, Disability funding that's sat with the Ministry of Health is under the new ministry, and those who rely on services are being reassured that everything will continue business as usual.

READ MORE: Disabled Kiwi set to be head of new Ministry

“The ministry will lead and coordinate disability policy across government, including improving outcomes for disabled people in areas such as employment, education, health and wellbeing," Williams said.

Whaikaha will also oversee a new approach to Disability Support Services.

Called the "enabling good lives" approach, it has already been successful in Waikato, Canterbury and mid-central pilot programmes.

It's set to give disabled people more choice and control, including around funding, to help enable them to live great lives.

Hopes for the next generation

The mum of eight-year-old Tallulah Mackay, who lives in Twizel, South Canterbury, hopes the new ministry will lead to an easier future for her blind daughter.

"My hope would be that she doesn't have to fight as hard in the future for what we're fighting for her to get now," Jess Mackay said.

Their family struggles getting support in their rural town, with the person assigned to teach her to use her cane in Auckland.

"She's planning on coming down once a year so it's just not adequate for a child of her age to be learning something physical.

"We do struggle with conversations about funding and getting people physically here to help Tallulah with her education," Mackay said.

She believes Whaikaha has the ability to make a real difference, but they need to listen to the community.

"It's just a matter of whether it's done right."

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said she's confident things are off to a great start.

"There is a long way to go in NZ to make a difference to the outcomes of the lives of Disabled people and particularly Tāngata whaikaha Māori," Tesoriero said.

Tāngata Whaikaha Māori and member of the Ministry Establishment Group Peter Allen said" "There's a huge amount of mahi we must do now cause we want a ministry that's going to reflect our people."