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Ruth Dyson’s Address to Disability Issues Office

Ruth Dyson’s Address for the official opening of the Office for Disability Issues

Grand Hall, Parliament Buildings, Wellington - 2pm, Monday, 30 September 2002

Tënä koutou katoa. Tënä koutou ngä tängata hauä me o koutou whänau, hoa, häpori hoki, tae atu ki te hunga e tautoko ana i te whakakotahi i a ngäi tätau.

[Greetings to all people with disabilities, their families/whanau, friends and communities, and all those who support a fully inclusive society.]

Good morning and welcome to this great occasion: the official opening of the Office for Disability Issues.

Some people say good things often come in threes. Well this is number three of the landmark events for people with disabilities that have occurred in as many years.

First we established the Minister for Disability Issues. I am proud and honoured to be the first office holder. Next was the launch of the New Zealand Disability Strategy to give us a vision and framework for action.

Now we have come to the third significant development that New Zealanders with disabilities have long been waiting for – the establishment of an Office for Disability Issues that will provide strong leadership and coordinated action across all sectors, and will be the leading voice for disability issues within government.

Before I go further I want to pay tribute to the excellent work carried out by Ministry of Health’s Disability Services Directorate in developing and monitoring the New Zealand Disability Strategy. The directorate did a fantastic job to get the strategy up and running.

They have enabled us to get where we are now through total dedication and commitment to the job, and I am sure I am reflecting the sentiments of the whole disability sector in applauding the directorate’s efforts and achievements.

The directorate will now be able to put all its energies into its core area of responsibility, disability support services, and of course it will have a close relationship with the new office.
The role of the office is to give policy advice on disability issues, lead the government’s implementation and monitoring of the New Zealand Disability Strategy, and work closely with the disability sector, both during the setting-up phase and in the development of its work programmes.

One of its roles will be to ensure that a disability perspective is included in all relevant Cabinet papers. This will make a big difference. It will give us the opportunity to have guaranteed input into a wide range of government policies while they are being developed, not as an afterthought or not at all.

Since the setting up of the Office for Senior Citizens, an increasingly strong older person’s perspective has come through all areas of government policy, and I expect the same thing to happen as a result of the new disability issues office.

I am delighted that we have such a high-calibre person in Jan Scown to lead the office.
Many of you will know Jan, who co-chaired the New Zealand Disability Strategy sector reference group, has been the chief executive of the Community Living Trust in Hamilton and helped to establish Access Ability Limited, a NASC agency operating in five centres in New Zealand.

She is a qualified psychologist who has held a range of senior positions in the disability sector for more than 20 years, and her experience and skills are going to be invaluable.

Jan has told me that she will work with the DPA as the voice of people with disabilities, and also build strong relationships with other parts of the sector.

Welcome Jan. And welcome, too, to the staff: Juliet Elworthy, Judy Small, Tessa Thompson, Owen Hughes, Victoria Manning and Paul Dickey. You may be pleased to hear that I have a list of disability issues on which I am looking to make significant progress.

The list is long but, I believe, achievable. It includes continuing with issues on which we have already made great progress over the last couple of years – resettlement of Kimberley residents in the community, implementation of Pathways to Inclusion, and introduction of a TTY service.

To mention just a few of the other issues:

In tertiary education, we are conducting a comprehensive review of the Special Supplementary Grant to ensure that it is meeting the needs of tertiary students with disabilities.

The latest disability survey tells us that about 11 per cent of children with disabilities have not always been able to enrol at the school of their choice. This is not good enough, and we will work to uphold the right for all children to attend their local school.

We are in the middle of an overhaul of NASC. My aim is that people with disabilities will have one generic assessment, no matter where they live or what their needs are, and specialist services will be brought in as required from appropriate government departments and funding streams.

Making equipment services and carer support and respite care priorities for future funding increases is part of Labour’s pre-election manifesto.

There is also widespread concern about inequitable access to services for people with disabilities, and a lack of coherence in the services provided. I know the Office for Disability Issues has already prepared a proposal to lead work in this area, which I am confident will get Cabinet agreement.

Health workforce issues, particularly for caregivers in residential services and home-based carers also need to be addressed. This work includes urgent resolution as to whether family members who provide care for people with disabilities should be paid.

Further work is needed to ensure that two bills already on the legislative agenda become law: firstly, the Sign Language Bill to make New Zealand Sign Language an official language; and secondly, the Intellectual Disability (Compulsory Care and Rehabilitation) Bill to provide for the assessment and care of people with an intellectual disability charged with, or convicted of, an imprisonable offence.

Accessible transport is a key issue. A review of Total Mobility is planned as part of the development of the New Zealand Transport Strategy.

I’ll stop there because I don’t want the new staff to take flight!

As the inaugural team they will have their work cut out, but I am confident they will be up to the task, and that they will get a lot of support from the disability sector.

The office will expand to 10 full-time staff over the next five years – or hopefully, much sooner – but of course they will still represent just the tip of a much larger body that is the disability movement.

All of us must continue to collaborate with each other – and now with the new office – to achieve our vision of an inclusive society, and to ensure that we do make a world of difference. Today we have reached a new turning point. I am looking forward to working with you all, and the new team, on the journey ahead.

Thank you

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