Five years on and disabled people still don’t count when it comes to employment

Disability issues have for many years been marginalised within the mainstream media, and the majority of nondisabled people control a narrative which is often wildly inaccurate. The media strongly influences public perception, reinforcing unhelpful stereotypes, negatively impacting the lives of disabled New Zealanders, including their access to employment opportunities. Representations about disabled people within both the mainstream and social media tend to be unimaginative, for example presenting all blind people as possessing superhuman hearing, objectifying disabled people as inspirational heroes for living ordinary lives, or completely excluding the lived realities of disability.

Journalists wield tremendous power and influence. Representatives from all forms of media are in a privileged position in the symbolic struggle to ensure information is seen, heard, and believed. The exclusion of disabled people from articles and stories about unemployment, together with the portrayal of us as interesting only when our stories inspire others, amounts to symbolic violence, which is difficult to detect and even invisible to its victims.

On Monday 6 May 2024, RNZ National’s Nine to Noon programme featured an item entitled “Youth Baring the brunt of rising unemployment”. The item discussed recently released stats on youth not in employment, education or training (NEET), which stands at 12.4%. It seems quite extraordinary that disabled people were once again completely left out of the discussion.

The silencing of the life experiences, hopes, and dreams of disabled people in the broadcast media was a catalyst for my recently completed PhD thesis entitled, Disability Work Matters: Employment Opportunities for Disabled People in the New Zealand Disability Sector. On Sunday 4 March 2018, RNZ National had aired an Insight documentary subtitled ‘No Job, No Training, No Hope?’ The website introduction to the documentary noted:

The economy is going gangbusters and we’re in the middle of a construction boom, yet 80,000 young New Zealanders are not in work or training while immigrants are brought in to work as builders and bricklayers. How does a young person end up unemployed and uneducated, and are there processes in place to help those people get back on the ladder?

While the programme advised that the unemployment rate in New Zealand stood at 4.5% at that time, those not in employment, education or training (NEET) made up 11.5%, as at February 2017. Māori and Pacific peoples, aggregated, represented 40% of NEETs, and 15% or 12,000 people were described as young women caregivers. It was reported that each NEET was costing the country just over $21,000 annually in benefits and lost productivity. This equated to $1.5 billion each year.

Since the previous census had reported that almost 70% of working-age disabled people were not in employment or undertaking education or training, it might have been expected that disabled youth would have featured strongly in this programme. However, this was not the case. The absence of information about disabled youth was particularly noticeable in light of benefit payments and lost tax revenue that accounted for $1.1 billion in 2016, as reported in a cost benefit analysis published by Workbridge that same year. However, the only mention of disabled people at all was in the passive role of those being cared for by young women “looking after an elderly or disabled relative”.

The media holds the power to highlight and support the interests of various community groups in New Zealand. When the disability-related programme One in Five was dropped by RNZ National some years ago, we were assured that disability issues would be included as part of mainstream news and current affairs coverage. This has not happened. Our lives and aspirations are either completely ignored by RNZ and other media outlets, or else they use the power associated with their status to misrepresent people who may hold little or no power themselves. It is way past time that more positive attention is given by the media to the one in four New Zealand citizens who experience disability, particularly with respect to our need for employment. Rather than constantly perpetuating stigmatisation through stereotypical portrayals, the media could instead use its privileged position and influence to educate, represent, advocate, and promote responsiveness towards disabled people’s access to all aspects of life, including employment.

DRNZ will shortly launch Disability Disrupters, a podcast featuring interviews with disabled people who disrupt society’s perception of us through living full and productive lives, and undertaking unexpected activities and careers. We will also feature e-mails from disabled people on the show. So if you think you’d like to contribute your experiences, write to and don’t forget to visit to find out what we offer.

Disability Responsiveness New Zealand Ltd,nothing in our name, without our direction!

Pam MacNeill, Managing Director

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

New Chief Executive at Blind and Low Vision NZ yet another sighted person with no lived experience of living a disabled life!

Yesterday, the Board of BLVNZ announced the appointment of a new CE. Heres what disability activist and advocate Jonathan Mosen had to say about this:

Today, the Royal new Zealand Foundation of the Blinds Board has announced the next Chief Executive of Blind Low Vision NZ, who I congratulate and wish every success in the role. However, as someone with a personal and professional interest in the employment of disabled people, I am deeply disappointed that given all the blind, low vision and DeafBlind people with leadership experience both at home and abroad, yet another disability service provider has not seen fit to walk its own talk and appoint one of us.

For the remainder of this post, my references to blind people also encompass those who are low vision and DeafBlind.

When you are fortunate to reach a stage in your career where you occupy senior roles as I have, there is a tendency to play the game and not rock the boat. Not doing so leaves you at risk of gaining a reputation for being a troublemaker. But some issues are too important. After careful reflection, I realise that I would far rather be thought of by some as a troublemaker than have to live with myself as someone who has sold out and forgotten where they have come from. Until the day I die, I will still be a blind person and will still be affected by the quality of blindness services in New Zealand. I am a member of the incorporated society and have a right to express a view about decisions that affect me.

When the previous Government appointed a nondisabled person to set up our Ministry, I was one of the founders of Disability Leadership Now, which spoke out against the decision and I believe ensured that a disabled person would be appointed to the permanent role. There is a time to stay silent, and a time to speak out. For me, it is time for the latter.

I have been a champion all my life of the fundamental human right of disabled people to determine our own destiny. Any progress we have made has been hard-fought-for. That is why I was one of several people who spent many years consulting and drafting to come up with the current RNZFB governance model with self-determination at its heart, which was ground-breaking for its time.

Determining our own destiny also means directing the services we receive, and what those services are. Sadly, the principles of the RNZFBs Constitution have not been allowed to cascade to its operational arm. Blind people are now less involved in the organisations operation than at any time in its history. When I was a senior manager there in the 1990s, there were several capable blind leaders at the senior management table, most of whom were global leaders. Now, there is a grand total of 0.

Is that because there are suddenly no blind people capable of serving at senior leadership level, or might the organisation be an unattractive place for many such people to work?

Several blind people have felt compelled to leave the organisation for the good of their mental health and as a matter of integrity. The Board itself have acknowledge the hurt many blind people have experienced.

Particularly for those of us of working age, people who are aware of the services available to blind people in countries with which we like to compare ourselves know that there has been a serious erosion of quality here. Many skilled professionals have left feeling despondent. There is more of an occupational therapy focus in service delivery than a blindness focus. They are different disciplines. Assistive technology provision is under-resourced. In my opinion, one key reason for this is that no one around that Executive Leadership Table lives life as a blind person and does not completely understand what life is like for us. That is not to say they arent making a valuable contribution, but the voice of lived experience it essential around that table.

We hear a lot about the paternalism of the old Blind Institute and the control they had over the lives of blind people. Blind people had to organise and agitate in order to change that behaviour. But what is interesting is that only two blind people have led the organisation at an operational level, and both of them were appointed in the first half-century of the organisations existence.

The last blind person to hold the role then called Director was appointed in 1923. One would hope that a modern, progressive disability organisation that truly lived its constitutional values would be keen to break that 100 year drought.

While blindness cannot be the only qualification taken into account when considering who to appoint to the Blind Low Vision NZ CEO role, in my opinion it should be a highly sought attribute. Of course senior leadership experience is essential, but being a member of the blind community is significant because a CEOs role is fundamentally about overseeing the organisations culture, values, strategic focus and viability. External relationships are also a key responsibility of the CEO, so turning up as a blind person makes a bold statement. After all, if Blind Low Vision NZ will not appoint a capable blind person to their most senior role, why should anyone else?

It is vital to employ subject matter experts in finance, fundraising and other disciplines. The RNZFB has a complex asset base and it must be safeguarded for future generations. But a blind person should be directing those professionals, consistent with the RNZFBs constitutional objects which include principles of self-determination.

A blind person at the helm wouldnt be able to switch off blindness at the end of their work day, and they would know that they must live with the consequences of the decisions they make long after their term as CEO is over. I believe that there is a blind culture. It is forged out of common experiences of past institutionalisation for some. In the present it is forged from getting about in the world without sight, numerous accessibility barriers, frequently being underestimated and infantilised, knowing we have so much to give, but for various reasons being denied the opportunity to give it. A blind CEO would simply get all that.

It is time to start asking tough questions not just of the Board of this organisation, but of many others and of Government. Why is the disability sector in New Zealand different from most other minorities and those experiencing disadvantage. Most Mori service providers are, rightly, run by Mori. I have seen CEO roles for entities providing services to the LGBTQ community where being a member of that community was highly desirable. Most leaders of organisations providing services specifically to women are run by women. Yet we constantly see disabled people being passed over for leadership roles in our own sector, with few to no reprisals for the organisations concerned.

I hope that this issue is something the new Minister for Disability Issues will consider. Nothing talks in these increasingly corporate organisations like the bottom line. So when it is procuring services, I urge the Government to take into account which organisations are disability-led. Some points should be awarded for leadership at the governance level, more should be awarded for leadership at the operational level. The Government has the potential to help influence disability leadership through the many dollars it allocates.

Those of us who are members of the society should certainly keep this decision in mind when voting for directors. We put them there, they are accountable to us. This is the right we fought for all those years ago.

Meanwhile, the successful applicant had every right to apply for the role. Let us support her and play a constructive part in her education.

Jonathan Mosen MNZM

Check out Jonathans podcast, Living Blindfully, all about living your best life with blindness and low vision

Enabling who’s good lives?

We are told the government supports the principles of Enabling Good Lives. But what does that mean in practice? This question was discussed during an online protest rally of disabled New Zealanders on Sunday 13 February. A spokesperson for the group, Disabled Leadership Now: Pam MacNeill, told the gathering that “while the government may say it supports the Kaupapa of Enabling Good Lives, this is just lip-service when it comes to leadership and staffing in the new ministry for disabled people. What happened to the principles of a person centred approach to building relationships with us, backing our right to self-determination to achieve ordinary life outcomes, and enhancing our mana by placing us in the mainstream of Public Service work about disablement? In appointing a nondisabled person to the role of Establishment Director for the ministry, the opportunity has been lost to enable disabled people to define our own agenda, and begin early to ensure easy access to our ministry by disabled Kiwis.”

Mrs MacNeill further called for vigilance on the part of those present lest the Public Service Commission appoint a substitute disabled person to the role of Chief Executive once the establishment phase of the ministry is completed in July this year. “We can not accept family as substitutes for disabled people staffing the ministry. Neither will we be mollified by appointments of people who may claim disabled status but with no personal lived experience of disability” Pam MacNeill said today.

Furthering the conversation

By now you will all be well aware of the Disabled Leadership Now campaign based around the appalling decision made by MSD, to appoint a nondisabled person to the role of Establishment Director for the new Ministry for Disabled People, and the poor timing of the announcement by government.

It is important that existing disability advocacy groups understand that the kopapa of the campaign is complementary to wider advocacy underway in Aotearoa New Zealand. Disabled Leadership Now is a group of senior disability activists having our say on a matter which is critical to the future leadership and management of the disability sector by the people it exists to support. We appreciate that it is potentially difficult for contracted organisations in the disability sector to express similar views they may hold publically. So we are speaking out to make it clear to government that it is not okay to paternalistically decide that disabled people are not capable of choosing what we want, determining our own path, and controlling our own future. After all, isn’t that what Enabling Good Lives is all about?

We would love to see as many disabled people as possible joining us at 3.00pm on 13 February, to discuss the situation we now find ourselves in as disabled people seeking to gain choice and control of everything about us.

Call for action

For too long, disabled people have not been equally represented in the positions of greatest influence over our own lives. We’re barely visible within the media, Parliament or Government. Neither are we well represented at senior management levels within the disability sector itself. The latest example of our marginalisation is that of the establishment of a Ministry for Disabled People. It seems that it is somehow deemed acceptable to put a nondisabled person at the helm. By mobilising a grassroots movement of disabled people in Aotearoa New Zealand, Disabled Leadership Now wants to pressure the Ministry of Social Development to take concrete steps to ensure disabled leadership is embedded throughout the ministry, particularly at leadership and management levels. Use the #DisabledLeadershipNow hashtag, to join us in growing the movement and raising public consciousness about the dearth of disabled leadership in prominent positions.

Disabled Leadership Now is campaigning to: embed disabled leadership in the DNA of the Ministry for Disabled People. To this end, we strongly urge the Ministry for Social Development to take immediate steps to ensure the appointment of disabled leaders to the ministry, including at Establishment Director, Chief Executive and senior management levels, now and into the future.

RIP Desmond Tutu, disability activist

Many people do not realise that the late, great Desmond Tutu was a disability activist, along with his many other roles striving for the rights of people across all spectra of humanity. I was fortunate indeed to meet Arch Bishop Tutu on a number of occasions. First in Sydney, Australia, at the World Assembly of Disabled Peoples’ International, in December 1994, where he told the audience about his own impairment issues. At this time I also learned from him, about how many thousands and possibly millions of disabled people were exterminated, in the Nazi death camps.

I was struck by Arch Bishop Tutu’s calm but very passionate certainty about the human rights of all disabled people. He was also very clear that, in order for disabled people to become fully autonomous with respect to everything concerning us, we must be brave; fully prepared to rock the boat, and speak out for our own right to self-determination. I have a much treasured photo of my colleague and myself hugging Arch Bishop Tutu after his speech. He was a joy to speak with and I will always treasure his advice to disabled people around the world, that we should be prepared to do everything we can to take control of our places and spaces and speak up for ourselves.

As disabled New Zealanders begin the journey towards the establishment of our own place: a ministry for disabled people, let us not be afraid to demand control of this and everything about us! The journey may be difficult but remember, in insisting on taking control of our own destinies, we demonstrate the very point we seek to make, that we are more than capable of choosing for ourselves, making our own decisions and acting upon these.

RIP dear Arch Bishop Tutu. Your memory and inspiration will certainly live on.

Disability community gravely concerned by appointment of nondisabled person as interim head of new Ministry for Disabled People

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 doesnt 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 Womens 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 Mori? What about Pacifica? A capable disabled leader could have been surrounded by public servants with a range of experience. But the experience you cant 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.



Pam Macneill

0274 575 461

Email: pam7of9

Jonathan Mosen

021 466 736

Email: jonathan

Barry De Geest

Email: barry

Huhana Hickey

Email: HuhanaHickey

Euthanasia for convenience?

I totally agree with the comments made this morning by the Disability Commissioner on RNZ National, particularly that the attitudes of NZers are nowhere near where they need to be in order to have any kind of conversation about euthanasia. Right now it seems more like we’re looking for ways to get rid of people we don’t understand. Sound familiar? Many New Zealanders went to war to fight against this sort of bigotry during WW2.

With the greatest of respect to the member of Parliament who has introduced the End of life bill, I dispute what he sees as his right to decide for his son. Who says he, or any of us, are ‘suffering’.

My blindness is not curable but I’m not suffering from this. What I and the 24% of NZers who are disabled do suffer from though is the rank ignorance of others who think they know best. Personally, I refuse to figuratively ‘sit at the back of the bus’. My rights, and those of my disabled peers, are just as important as anyone elses. How dare anyone think they can get rid of us as inconvenient, costly useless drains on society.

Does my blindness, and now older age, make me useless? No doubt many might assume so. When I finish the PhD I started this year, to add to my other qualifications and years of work in mid-level management in both the State and NGO sectors, I’ll let you know.

How do we gain visibility?

On Sunday 4 March I was keen to hear the latest in the Insight documentary series from Radio NZ National. This was subtitled: “No Job, No Training, No Hope?”

The reporter hosting the documentary was Emile Donovan. emile.donovan

The website intro to the documentary noted: “The economy is going gangbusters and we’re in the middle of a construction boom, yet 80,000 young New Zealanders are not in work or training while immigrants are brought in to work as builders and bricklayers. How does a young person end up unemployed and uneducated, and are there processes in place to help those people get back on the ladder?”

This documentary focused on young people not in employment, education or training, otherwise known as NEETs.

Some interesting statistical data on this issue was presented. We were advised that while the unemployment rate in New Zealand currently stands at 4.5%, NEETs make up 11.5%, as at February 2018. Māori and Pacifica make up 40% of NEETs and 15% or 12,000 people are young women who are also caregivers. Each NEET costs the country just over 21,000 annually in benefits and lost productivity. This equates to 1.5 billion dollars each year.

Now since we know that, according to the last Census published by Statistics New Zealand in 2014, one in four New Zealanders is disabled by barriers to participation in the community and almost 70% of working age disabled people are not working and mostly not in education or training either, you could have been forgiven for expecting that disabled youth would feature strongly in this Insight programme. Especially when we also know that benefit payments and lost tax revenue from this group accounts for 1.1 Billion dollars (Workbridge 2016). But no, the only mention disabled people got in this programme was in the usual passive role of being cared for by young women labeled as care givers: “ … looking after an elderly or disabled relative …”

There have been several news items written and broadcast recently which discuss the needs of those who ‘care’ for us as disabled people. But wait, who mandated our relatives or organisations that profess to work for us to talk on our behalf? Are media representatives too frightened to discuss the issues that matter to us, for example about choice and power over our own autonomy, with us? And why can’t broadcasters and others simply ask us and stop treating us, in the words of the late June Opie, as though we are “museum specimens”. imagine how it might feel if your husband>/wife or some agency professing to be experts on you were the only people others spoke to about you and your life? What’s more, how appropriate would it be for Pākehā to rule the lives of Māori or men to decide everything for and about women … oh of course, that’s the way things used to be right? And, while such behavior was once the norm, it is, thank goodness, no longer considered acceptable.

The message most of us would send if we could capture the attention of the media for one minute is: we are not figures of tragedy, suffering from our afflictions. Neither are we here to provide inspiration to you. What we do suffer from is lack of consideration for our rights, being spoken about and not spoken to and the arrogance of those who continually assume (usually wrongly) that they have any clue who we are or what we need to remove the barriers to our full participation in all aspects of life. Disabled youth should have been included in this documentary and not pushed to the sidelines, to possibly be trotted out only when convenient to pluck at people’s heart-strings and get a ‘good story’.