Anne Hawker ONZM QSM retires from career in disability advocacy

It’s fair to say that Anne Hawker is passionate about improving outcomes for disabled people. Anne has spent much of her working life advocating for the rights of disabled people – both in the community and in government.

The Office for Disability Issues has benefited from Anne’s advice and advocacy. 

Anne, who retired last week, has twice been recognised with honours – the Queen’s Service Medal for Community Service in 1989, and Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2021.

The ONZM celebrated her internationally-recognised work around the New Zealand Disability Strategy, which became New Zealand’s negotiating mandate for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.


Anne’s first role in advocacy was with the Mosgiel Abilities Resource Centre. She was also involved with Multiple Sclerosis New Zealand, becoming the first person with MS on the Board of the MS Society, and New Zealand’s representative to the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies from 1988 to 1993.

She has held many other roles and offices since, including President of the Disabled Persons Assembly 1993-97 (both regionally and nationally), Treasurer of the New Zealand Rehabilitation Association and the Disability Information Service in the early 1990s, CEO of the Head Injury Society (1995/96), chair of Rehab International’s Social Commission 2000-2008 and World President of Rehab International 2008-2012.

Anne also played a leading role in Rehabilitation International’s work towards the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). 

Her journey into advocacy came by accident.

“I was invited along to a meeting. And I said why don’t we do some action, and the person who would become my supervisor said ‘if you want action you have to do it yourself’. So I did, and some of those services we developed are still going,” recalls Anne.

She describes working in the community as “the love of my life”.

“We developed a range of services including Total Mobility in Dunedin, the first stroke club in the country, the first carer’s group in the country. It was very much driven from the community’s needs.

“It was done on the smell of an oily rag in many cases. We got the first non-DHB contract for ACC (for home support services), we ran the first training programme for disabled young people. A lot of that was giving them CV writing skills, but also assertiveness training, a whole lot of things so they could effectively operate in the community.”

Driving change for accessibility across Government 

Since 2007 Anne has been the Principal Disability Advisor for MSD.

She has been the driving force behind the Accessibility Charter, which is now signed by 40 Government agencies, and has led work in the creation and implementation of the All of Government alternate and accessible formats work.

In 2017 work started to develop the Accessibility Statement, which was to become the Accessibility Charter. The Charter was signed off by the Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) Coalition and then Ministers. In February 2018 Brendan Boyle (who was then CE of MSD) presented the signed Accessibility Charter at the State Sector Chief Executives’ master class and the Charter was launched.

MSD’s signed Accessibility Charter is now on display at 56 The Terrace, Wellington.

“The next step was implementation. So, working with the print disabled DPOs – People First, Deaf Aotearoa and the Association of Blind Citizens – and Department of Internal Affairs, we began our monthly Accessibility Charter Training,” says Anne.

She estimates that about 30 people per month have been through the training since it began in early 2019.

“We started out by developing the lead toolkit, which has a lot of resources. Then we needed some policies and procedures, of which the first one was the reasonable accommodations policy.

“Then we got to look at accessible information, and I worked with Phillipa Baldwin who was in policy at that time, and the Association of Blind Citizens, who were our DPO link.”

This work led to the development of the All-of Government alternate and accessible formats process, which is now well established.

Progress in the workplace

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities defines reasonable accommodation as:

the "necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms".

Government agencies provide reasonable accommodation to many employees, such as staff caring for their children or other relatives, staff with religious or ethical beliefs; as well as supporting disabled staff and staff with mental health conditions.

Anne sees progress around reasonable accommodations, (also known as workplace support or adjustments) and notes that changes to working hours and conditions which were forced by COVID-19 have improved work flexibility for many people.

“So we’ve got flexibility. Now, how do we fit in reasonable accommodations?”

"Reasonable accommodations should be your overarching policy, flexibility is one of the component parts - giving people the tools they need and the support to do their job,” says Anne.

The future

Anne finished at MSD on Thursday 6 October, then she is looking forward to a trip to Australia, to visit with her family.

Anne says she is keen to take things a bit more slowly when she gets back, but she may be available for "a little bit of part-time work, maybe on a project where someone needs some input or advice, but nowhere near full time.”

“I’ve done my dash.”

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