19 Aug 2022

Whaikaha - Pursuing Strength

A light-skinned Māori man with energetic eyes framed by heavy eyebrows, wearing a salt and pepper beard, with short cropped hair and a  blue/black polkadot shirt. He is smiling.A light-skinned Māori man with energetic eyes framed by heavy eyebrows, wearing a salt and pepper beard, with short cropped hair and a  blue/black polkadot shirt. He is smiling.

July saw the launch of Whaikaha, the Ministry of Disabled People, for Aotearoa New Zealand.

A year ago, Touch Compass reappropriated the term Tāngata Mana Whaikaha as our te reo vernacular for our people, replacing the negative connotation of whaiora, and haua. Tāngata = People; Mana = of power, honour and presence; Whaikaha = pursuing further strength. For an organisation like ours - founded on dance and movement practice - this phrase moves, celebrating the strength of our artists, creatives and their communities. It’s an appropriate term.

To pursue and attain, to embody strength and power creates a visual identity of reaching, stretching, moving forward, in pursuit of artistic strength and personal wellbeing. The launch of Whaikaha Ministry is the nation's opportunity to reach for a new strength, a strength to empower a community of people and practice that has been marginalised.

The establishment of a Ministry that represents the multi-diverse population of a quarter of the country (the more than 25% of Aotearoa who identify as having a lived experience of disability) and the 40-50% or so of the country who are whanau to this group, was not only overdue, it had been embarrassingly absent. Disability is not niche, yet comparatively it’s acknowledged and funded - especially in the arts and culture sectors - as if it is one. That’s a narrative that needs shifting. It will take collective strength to do so.

Touch Compass has long been a strong, innovative, artistic voice for disabled creatives and communities, and our tireless efforts to pursue our own strength, to advocate for access to arts for all is shared by a strong network of organisations throughout Aotearoa. The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities lists the basic human right to be able to participate in society and life, without barriers, as one of its guiding principles. Access should never be an overlay, it should be embedded from the very beginning. We build on this principle in our own strategic journey of creating equity for all - Mana Taurite - the bedrock foundation to our Five Pillars of Disability Consciousness.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. This Ministry has been years in the making. However, perhaps in the arts space, we are seeing a catalyst for change, the first sparks of a new and better supported movement, moving to a position of strength. As Robyn Hunt pointed out in a recent article, it needs to!

Whaikaha launched to give a central government representative voice for disability. The national arts funding body Creative New Zealand’s recent Statement of Intent carries within it new strategic areas of focus including this: access, inclusion and equity – ensuring their services and the arts are accessible to, inclusive of, and equitable for all New Zealanders.

It’s no secret that funding, opportunity, and access remain ever-present barriers for disabled artists and creatives, yet little has been done to remove those barriers to date in recognising the costs and implications of true accessibility in the arts and culture scene.

When disability-led arts is measured apples for apples alongside non-disabled creators (and funded like for like) there’s an immediate disparity in strength - either access, or the artistic output, must be compromised.

Making truly accessible arts costs money. Some calculations put this anywhere between 40% - 440% higher individual costs per project to achieve real accessibility!

It remains to be seen what role Whaikaha sees for itself in building, supporting, and enhancing the cultural opportunities and lifestyle participation and engagement for disabled people, and what effort it makes on behalf of all Aotearoa to raise the profile and awareness of disability issues.

We’d like to believe this new Ministry has some strength behind it, not just a convenient figurehead, and really seeks to empower disabled people through a ‘whole of person’ approach. It would be a waste if it instead became the outlet for health and medical services wrapped up as social support.

Perhaps, it will take some strength from the hau tipua toi, the extraordinary disabled artists and creatives, our sector has to offer.

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