A look back at 2020

2020 has been a heck of a year, hasn’t it? Obviously COVID-19 casts a huge shadow over the year and can make it hard to remember what else happened. But there’re plenty of things we’d like to celebrate or commemorate, so please join us as we look back at 2020.


A smiling man in a wheelchair hugs his family on a beach

A stock image of a smiling man in a wheelchair hugging his family on a beach

  • Over the year we welcomed six new staff members and two interns to support the work we are doing. Learn more about our NZSL interns here.

  • On the subject of staff, one of our senior advisors, Jacinda Allwood, was selected onto the Ministry of Social Development Emerging Leaders programme.  

  • In January we were delighted to learn that Sir Robert Martin was made a Knight Companion in the New Year's Honours list.

  • Our work programme including providing stewardship over the first twelve months of the cross-Government Disability Action Plan (2019-2023), reviewing the terms of reference for the New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Board and progressing the NZSL Strategy.

  • We have made significant progress with the Disability Strategy outcomes framework, and have been pleased to receive really positive feedback from stakeholders.  

  • In April 2020, we invited the disability community to participate in a series of surveys on the issues and risks being experienced by disabled people and their familie and whānau in the COVID-19 environment. The surveys also collected information from service providers and others (eg, community advocates) in the disability sector. Four surveys were undertaken between 17 April and 14 July 2020.
    • The information gathered from the survey responses has helped government officials to identify the issues and difficulties being experienced by the disability community as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what can be done in response.
    • It was a really difficult time for everyone in New Zealand, and the disablity community in particular. However, it was also a demonstration of the resilience that disabled people have. We hope that many of the things that were learned during the COVID-19 lockdowns – such as how it’s possible to work from home, and how to make art more accessible for those who can’t physically get to the venue – will continue in the future. Let’s build a better world rather than going back to “normal”.

  • The Office for Disability Issues kept working of course even when we couldn’t be in the actual office. This year we dealt with a record number of requests for advice from the public, other government agencies and through the Minister’s Office with over 819 requests for advice in the 2019/2020 financial year compared to 678 in the previous year.

  •  In our NZSL team….  
    • The Minister for Disability Issues agreed to all our recommendations for the review of the NZSL Act.
    • The Youth Plan report was completed.
    • A new logo was developed for the NZSL Board, celebrating the vibrancy of the language and the work of the Board between government and the Deaf community. The logo was launched when the new NZSL Board Facebook page (link) was set up in September.

      NZSL board logo
    • NZSL community grounds (Round 7) distributed $395.800.20 to 13 projects for the 2020/2021 financial year. Find out more about what projects received funding. 
    • The NZSL Board hosted 12 community engagement meetings from Invercargill to Whangarei, working around the COVID-19 restrictions through the year. 
    • Minister Sepuloni and the NZSL Board met with the Māori Deaf at Rūaumoko Marae  to acknowledge the historical inequality to Te Ao Māori and to announce a project going forward which will focus on further development and learning, and to improve access to Te Ao Māori for the Māori Deaf community.
  • In November we held a morning tea to celebrate Sir Robert Martin’s investiture. At the same time, we were working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, supporting his campaign to be re-elected to the UN Disability Committee. How fantastic it was when he was re-elected, with the greatest number of votes too.

  • Also in November we teamed up with the Ministry for Women, Ministry for Pacific Peoples and the Office of Ethnic Communities to run three Governance training sessions for people on our Nominations Databases. These were very well received by those who attended, and we will be looking into what other support we can provide in 2021 to our nominations database members. The overall goal is to increase the diversity on (government appointed) state sector boards.

  • In December we published a brief history of disability in Aotearoa (beginning at Pākehā arrival). It’s important as we work towards a non-disabling society to know how far we’ve come – and what policies used to be in place that still have repercussions today. You can read the history here

Thank you to all those people we have worked beside, those who have challenged us, and those with whom we have shared success and been able to acknowledge progress. Disability progress requires the involvement and commitment of many important actors and roles, both within government and in non-government organisations. It’s in our communities, through advocates and most importantly through leaders in the disability community, through the collective voice of disabled people and their family/whānau that we are able to bring change.

There is still much to do – bring on 2021!

Two women, one with Down Syndrome, carrying Christmas gifts

Stock image: Two women, one with Down Syndrome, carrying Christmas gifts

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