Just who has power and control over the New Zealand disability sector?

The appointment yesterday of a nondisabled Chief Executive to Blind and Low vision New Zealand, echo’s common discourses and beliefs within society, often fuelled by both the traditional and social media, which label disabled people as unworthy and necessarily incompetent.

Unfortunately it is not surprising that a blind, or otherwise disabled person didn’t get the Chief Executive position. This decision follows a sadly predictable pattern. Seeking to keep up with the times, most disability-related charities today have changed their names in an effort to counter charges of paternalism. For example, the predecessor to BLVNZ was the RNZ Foundation ‘of’ the Blind, whereas its predecessor was the RNZ Foundation ‘for’ the Blind. Nevertheless, what appears not to have changed is the governance and control of such institutions.

An effective merry-go-round exists at the senior levels within the disability sector here and in other western countries, which sees senior executives leave one charity and remarkably join another, at increasingly senior levels. Someone with no lived experience of disability, working at a senior level in the disability sector, may have accumulated the social networks which simplifies their entry to a sector which exists to serve disabled people. This eventually leads to their gaining sufficient power to control that sector. Thus, circumstances surrounding such appointments are all about power and control, and ultimately how these are achieved in the name of disabled people, but not by people who actually live disabled lives; the people in whose name the sector exists.

Jonathan Mosen is quite correct when he notes that there are a number of highly qualified people in New Zealand, who not only possess the academic and business experience required to fill roles such as that of BLVNZ Chief Executive and other senior roles in other areas of the disability sector, but critically possess the key cultural capital conferred by their lived experience of disability. Disabled New Zealanders are increasingly seeking our rightful place in charge of our own sector, and just like members of other marginalised groups, we will keep demanding that we gain power and control over our own sector.

Pam MacNeill

Managing Director

Disability Responsiveness New Zealand Ltd

M Phil, Dip Rehab, Dip Soc Wk, CQSW, Dip Bus, PhD student