People First – Ten Year Celebration

Speech – New Zealand Government

I want to thank Cindy Johns, your National Manager and Hamish Taverner, your National Chairperson for the opportunity to speak at this event. I also thank Lee Rutene for opening this event.
Hon Tariana Turia

Minister for Disability Issues
Wednesday 16 October 2013

People First – Ten Year Celebration, Banquet Hall, Beehive, Wellington

I want to thank Cindy Johns, your National Manager and Hamish Taverner, your National Chairperson for the opportunity to speak at this event. I also thank Lee Rutene for opening this event.

I can’t help but think that flying free like the butterfly is a wonderful image for your logo. For 30 years you have been speaking up and giving voice to the voiceless to say what was important to disabled people.

It is with great pleasure that I follow in the footsteps of your esteemed life member, Robert Martin, in this very important milestone event.

In reality, many of us have been doing exactly that – learning from your leadership about the lived experience of learning disabilities.

In your book, Becoming a Person, Robert sums up the experience of living with an intellectual disability when he says,

“ It’s been a long journey. A hard one. But it’s taken me from being a nothing – a nobody – to becoming a person.”

It is to our national shame that we ever had a situation in which disabled people felt this way in the first place. But today we celebrate a different time – a different feeling.

We have come together to mark ten years of an independent People First New Zealand. Ten years following in your leadership.

Robert’s journey eventually took him across the world. He went from enduring many painful experiences in institutions and greater society to being the first person with a learning disability to speak at the United Nations.

Imagine that – the first person with an intellectual disability to present at an international forum and be heard and listened to right across the world – and it was a New Zealander and a great New Zealander at that.

I am so proud of New Zealand’s role in advocating for the Disabilities Convention. We involved disabled peoples organisations in the Government group that went to the United Nations – and in the development of the convention.

This was a first for the world – it challenged the globe to know that the people do come first – by working together we will all be stronger.

Nowadays I don’t think any of us would expect anything less. We must keep demanding that the voices of disabled persons will ring out loud and clear, demonstrating the leadership that will make a difference to your lives, indeed to our lives.

I am an avid fan of the philosophy as Paul Gibson has mentioned previously, on which People First is founded. In te ao Maori we have a proverb,

“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the greatest thing on earth? ‘Tis people! ‘Tis people! ‘Tis people!”

In essence it reminds us that the greatest leadership comes from within. It is not about relying on an outside provider, a manual, a textbook, a professional – no matter how helpful all of these resources may be.

It is instead about making it possible for your voice to shine through. I know that People First has invested in its leadership programme to support you to feel safe and confident in speaking up at meetings just like this one.

By speaking out on the things that matter the voices of disabled people will be the voice of authority, a significant influence in all of our journeys. Today that voice takes on a new dimension, as we celebrate the launching of the new People First website, logo and Facebook page.

This is a great development – one in which the lived experience of disability is shared in your way, the way you want it to be.

I want to acknowledge today the presence of Dame Beverley Wakem – the Chief Ombudsman,

Paul Gibson – our Disability Rights Commissioner and David Rutherford – the Chief Human Rights Commissioner and People First members and staff, volunteers, funders, supporters.

Together these three groups of people – the Ombudsman, The Human Rights Commission – and Disabled Peoples Organisations – represent the new way in which we work together to make disabled people’s lives better.

That is the only way in which we can get it right – if we do work together to make lives better.

Finally I want to celebrate some of the great achievements of People First. You can’t go far without recognising the importance of Easy Read – to make information better to understand and faster to read.

A particular highlight is the Easy Read employment agreement that People First has created. In many ways this was a good idea just waiting to happen – but such a good idea that I believe it has had international recognition recently.

I am sure that there are many other examples we will be able to learn about when we connect onto your Facebook page or your website. At the end of your first decade I have to say I am looking forward to what next – how will you spend your next ten years?

We are at a unique period in the history of the disability movement. We are on the brink of such an exciting future – where people with disabilities have more choice and control over their lives and can exercise their full rights of citizenship.

This is your journey – our journey – enabling all of us to become the person we most want to be. I congratulate you all on this very important day and I look forward to keeping the work going to make our futures brighter in every way that we can.

ENDS

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