Launched on 1 July 2022, the Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People is the result of many years work by people in the disability community and government. However, the whakapapa of this work goes back to before colonisation.

Discover some important moments that shaped disability in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Pre-colonial perspectives on disability

For Māori prior to colonisation, disability was a part of human and whānau diversity.

When European colonists came to Aotearoa, New Zealand they brought with them views that disabled people had defects that needed to be fixed, or were people society needed protection from. This gave rise to years of misunderstanding, institutionalisation and abuse of disabled people.

Much has changed, but even today disabled people’s lives are limited by society’s assumptions and views. More needs to change and our new Ministry's role is to work in partnership with the disabled community to lead that change.

In taking this work forward, we build on the mahi and wisdom of those who have worked to achieve change.

1976: A new model and way of thinking

In 1976 the London Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation challenged the 'medical model of disability' that viewed disability as a personal problem. This was part of the beginning of a new ‘social model of disability’ that recognised people might have impairments, but it was society that disabled them. Disabled people’s voices began to be heard in policies and governance and 'Nothing about us without us' became a mantra across much of the world.

Much later, in New Zealand, this need for a shift in models would finally be realised by moving disability support services from the Ministry of Health (MoH) to this new Ministry – Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People. And the “Nothing about us without us" mantra would be central to its establishment.

1983 to 1993: Hopeful signs and the Human Rights Act

In 1983, early signs of hope appeared in Aotearoa New Zealand when the pan-disability Disabled Persons Assembly external URL (DPA) was formed and controlled by and for disabled people. The same year parents with disabled children established the advocacy group Parent to Parent external URL . In 1987, People First external URL was formed and is led by people with learning (intellectual) disabilities.

In 1993, the Human Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate on disability – the Disabled Persons Assembly worked in coalition with gay rights groups to win this fight for both groups. In 1994, the Health and Disability Commissioner external URL role was established, then in 1999 the first Minister for Disability Issues was appointed.

The New Zealand Disability Strategy was first published in 2001, based on the social model of disability. A year later the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) external URL was established to lead the Strategy. The latest version of the Strategy external URL remains an important focus of this Ministry and the ODI are a key part of its structure.

2006 to 2007: An official language and the UN Convention

Two important milestones happened in 2006. New Zealand Sign Language became our third official language and Aotearoa New Zealand took a leading role in developing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities external URL (UNCRPD).

In 2007, New Zealand won the FD Roosevelt Award for disability leadership. But perhaps more importantly, this was also the year a Social Services Select Committee heard that people with disabilities had little control over the services they received and that funding was inflexible. This could be seen as the dawn of government awareness of a need for system change.

2009 to 2010: 'The Coalition' and Whānau Ora

In 2009 ‘The Coalition’ was established, which would be crucial to sowing the seeds of change.

It was made up of five partner organisations:

Then, in 2010, Whānau Ora external URL was launched. Whānau Ora is about increasing the wellbeing of individuals in the context of their whānau and differs from traditional health approaches that focus only on the needs of individuals. This resonated strongly with the disability community and became another seed for change.

The Minister for Disability Issues at the time asked the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Development to work with the disability community to start with a blank page and work with the disability community to develop an approach for change. This became known as Enabling Good Lives external URL (EGL). The following year, the Minister asked officials to progress the EGL approach, which is principles-based and closely aligned to the Whānau Ora approach.

In 2012, the Ministerial Committee on Disability Issues agreed to the EGL approach as the basis for change and the foundational EGL principles were adapted. The disability community and sector were invited to develop 'the Christchurch Plan' and the 'Waikato Plan'.

2012: Te Tiriti o Waitangi foundational to approach

A 2012 Cabinet paper highlighted the importance of Te Tiriti o Waitangi in its response to disability:

“The Treaty relationship as set out in the New Zealand Disability Strategy, and the Māori Disability Action Plan, will continue to be core to this future vision. It will be based on three key principles of participation at all levels; partnership in delivery of support, and the protection and improvement of Māori wellbeing.”

2013 to 2015: EGL comes to life

In 2013, Cabinet agreed to a EGL demonstration in Christchurch, and the following year to the design for a demonstration in the Waikato. An independent group of Māori, involved with the EGL approach, developed Te Ara Tika – a resource for Whānau Māori in 2014.

In 2015, ODI launched the Disability Action Plan to gather evidence to inform EGL-based transformation. Then, in 2017, Cabinet directed the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Social Development to work alongside the disability community to design nationwide transformation of the disability support system based on the EGL vision and principles.

2021 to today: A new ministry begins

In October 2021, Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni announced the establishment of a new Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People to lead transformation of the disability support system in partnership with the community.

On 1 July this Ministry began operations and is working on a nationwide EGL rollout.

The mahi has still only just begun.