Oscar Wilde famously said, “there is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”. Plenty of people are talking about Disabled Leadership Now at the moment.
As this blog post is published, we are less than 48 hours away from an extraordinary event. In a short time, thanks to the support of disabled people across the country, we have built a grass roots disability movement that proudly champions self-determination.
For me, it has been incredibly uplifting to be a small part of a dedicated and talented team of advocates who have helped us reach this point.
Based on registrations for our rally on Sunday, it is clear that many disabled people feel concerned about this critical establishment phase not being led by a disabled person. However, as with any movement, we have our detractors. In this post, I would like to address some of the concerns and criticisms I have become aware of.
We are all about principles
I have heard it said that Disabled leadership now is about attacking individuals, and that is causing some to feel hesitant about being involved. You will note that on this website, and in all the material we have circulated about our forthcoming rally, we have not mentioned the name of the current Establishment Director.
At the rally on Sunday, the organisers will be sticking to why our Kaupapa is so important. We fervently believe that decisions at this critical inception phase of the Ministry should not just be a matter of consultation with disabled people, they must be led by disabled people. Our argument is compelling and our cause is consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities to which Aotearoa New Zealand is a signatory. We have no need, nor any desire, to weaken our argument by attacking any individual.
We will do all we can during the open mic part of the rally to ensure that our korero is respectful and remains focused on the principles, not the person.
Many of our leaders have years of experience in advocacy, government relations, senior leadership and the state sector. Aiming low is not our style.
There is no disabled person in New Zealand who could have filled this role successfully
We respectfully disagree. One of the disabled applicants shortlisted for this role was formerly a senior public service with 26 years experience, who has managed staff and large budgets, negotiating the machinery of government.
It is true that, due to neglect on the part of the Public Service in identifying disabled people and promoting them to senior leadership roles, there is a shortage of disabled people at the most senior level of the Public Service at the moment.
But it is also true that this means senior public servants have no direct experience of our culture and our struggles. That then begs the question, what is more important? If you can’t have it all because of embedded institutional ableism, what attributes should take priority when choosing a Transition Director?
It is reasonable to consider what the response would be with any other minority. Based on current practice, it is clear that when a Government entity is specifically about a given minority, the process should be led by that minority. Disabled people are not being treated equitably in this regard.
We do have disabled people with senior leadership experience in a range of organisations. They have the knowledge and trust of our community. The credibility of this process would have been advanced if that experience and mana had been accorded the highest priority, while surrounding that leader with officials who could assist with the machinery of Government. So our argument is that the wrong attributes have been prioritised in this appointment process.
No constructive solutions
Some have expressed concern that Disabled Leadership Now is voicing objections without offering a solution. To that we say, “watch this space”. Based on the outpouring of concern, we have articulated the frustration and disappointment many disabled people are feeling and invited those who want to be a part of the korero to attend our rally. A key objective of that rally is to discuss next steps in an environment where only disabled people are present, so we all feel safe to have a frank strategic discussion. What constructive suggestions can we offer to restore confidence in this new Ministry and the processes surrounding it.
It is something we have been thinking about, but we prefer to have that debate with as many people present as possible, so we can develop a strategy that enjoys broad consensus among those who have become a part of our movement. So we can assure you, this is not just about having a rant. We will come out of the rally with specific proposals, and we will advance them.
Cliches are often repeated because they are true. In this instance I am moved to note that every cloud has a silver lining. The overwhelming support this movement has received represents an awakening among our community. We intend using that energy for positive, constructive purposes. Many of us in the leadership of Disabled Leadership Now have sought a Ministry for decades. We believe that just being around the table at this critical time is not enough. We need one of us at the head of the table, with whatever support from other public servants that is required. We want this Ministry to succeed. It is a once in a generation opportunity to truly change things for the better.
If you feel the same way, join us on Sunday. It will be a day you will remember, and you can feel proud that you stood up for such an important principle.