Media Release – Collective of Concerned Disability Leaders: Disability community gravely concerned by appointment of nondisabled person as interim head of new Ministry for Disabled People
The Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Health announcement of a non-disabled person, in the form of career official Justine Cornwall, to head the establishment unit of the new Ministry for Disabled People has been roundly criticised by a grouping of disability leaders.
The Collective, a group of prominent disabled people, has come together to question the principle behind the appointment of Ms Cornwall however they stress this doesn’t include her personally.
“We wish to stress that our criticisms are squarely aimed at the principle that disabled people must lead and manage any organisation being established or existing in our name. The timing of this announcement is dubious, since it appears to have been deliberately designed to slip past disabled people who, like everyone else in the country, are dispirited and exhausted after another long Covid year. It is not as though there were no qualified disabled candidates applying for this position. Once again, disabled citizens, who make up a quarter of the population, get no real voice in our own business, other than the beneficently bestowed opportunity to provide representation at governance level”, says group member and Hutt Valley-based disability advocate, Pam MacNeill.
While the group wished every success to Ms Cornwall in her new role, the attention of much of the disability community was now turning to ensuring that the permanent chief executive role, to be filled next year, would go to a suitably qualified disabled person.
Group member, disability advocate and podcaster Jonathan Mosen, speaking in a personal capacity, said that it was disappointing to find that the establishment unit director was not a disabled person who was known to the disability community.
“This week, I hoped we would all be celebrating the success of a disabled leader who shared our values and was known to our community, and thus representing a true change in outlook for the delivery of disability policy. But while an experienced public servant and one who has disabled whanau/family members, Ms Cornwall is not a recognised member of the disability community and is a name not familiar to several disabled leaders I have spoken with. The public service has buried the details of the Establishment Director in a release issued on Christmas week when many in the sector have begun a break after an exhausting year. The release is dominated by a lot of talk about governance. That release would have looked very different had an authentic disabled voice been appointed.”
Mr Mosen further added that “disabled people are once again being marginalised in a way that no other minority would tolerate. If the Ministry of Women’s Affairs were being established today, would women accept a man being appointed Establishment Director as long as women were on a governance group advising that man? What about Māori? What about Pacifica? A capable disabled leader could have been surrounded by public servants with a range of experience. But the experience you can’t teach is the lived experience of disability.”
The group believes that while the position is a fixed-term role, the Establishment Director will be critical in setting a culture of inclusion and accessibility that is different from the judgemental, patronising culture of the past. For the sake of authenticity, a leader who identifies as a member of the disability community should have been in that role. However, the hope is that the appointment of the permanent head of the ministry will lead to a disabled person heading it.
“We, as a disability community, had better be vigilant because success is clearly not guaranteed,” said Mr Mosen.
Barry De Geest