Published Thursday 11 May 2023

Rachel is the General Manager of the Disability team, based at Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley (CCHV).

As the only dedicated team for disability at Te Whatu Ora, Rachel said their aim is to create positive change towards equitable, accessible and inclusive healthcare for all disabled people and their whānau. 

Rachel shared what she loves about her role.

Tell us about your job/role?     

As the General Manager Disability Strategy, Planning and Performance, I work with my team to promote and create rights-based, inclusive and accessible healthcare services so disabled people feel safe and comfortable.

Tāngata whaikaha Māori/disabled people make up 24 per cent of the population and are high users of the healthcare system yet experience numerous inequities when interacting with health services. We are not evident in data, policies, priorities or accountabilities… until now! Te Pae Tata introduces these concepts for the first time and we’re here to provide guidance on how we elevate the voices of disabled people, and how we make our services inclusive. Often a very minor tweak can make a huge difference – as a community we’ve talked about what needs to happen for many years, it is a privilege to be in Te Whatu Ora during a transformation to be in a position to make adjustments which have a high impact on people and address equity. 

Why did you chose this job?

It was a natural evolution from my teaching and advocacy background. Being the CE of a national NGOs and being a member of the disability community means coming here is like trying a different position, a different way to create the momentum for change.

In all my roles I’ve maintained a strong interest in figuring out how change occurs and what the human rights framework for disability looks like in real practice. I love how we don’t have a template to follow so we’re figuring it out as we go. You can imagine how thrilled I was when an international report came out at the end of 2022 affirmed all the actions we were taking. It certainly gave us the confidence to continue the work we are doing.

What do you love most about your job?

There is a lot to love about my job – particularly my team and my colleagues. 

If I think about what is really giving me a buzz at the moment, it would be the changes I can see in our people. Our team are currently running a series of workshops called Reframing Disability and the Disability Capability Maturity Model. It’s been incredible to see people have the ‘ah ha’ moment during these workshops and then becoming motivated to make real change when they realise how they can achieve disability equity.

What's a typical day?

I wish there was a typical day. One thing I always do on top of my usual work related things is to scan social media and communications from the disability world to ensure we are in the know with experiences disabled people have with health services, research and best practice. This allows me to reflect on the alignment of our work. 

What's your biggest achievement?

Easily the most exciting thing is Te Pae Tata. We, the disability community, are present, we are visible and we count now that we have been identified as a priority population. It is a first for any agency in New Zealand. The fun part is starting now – we see people accepting the need to include disability in their work but wondering how to get started. We have tools available and encourage people to reach out to us so we can share our knowledge, resources and to steer you in the direction intended by Te Pae Tata. We’re a pretty creative group of people, we are all grounded in the disability community. We have extensive networks and there’s nothing better than seeing a team use our tools to find their direction.

Tell us a bit about you?

I was born Deaf. I grew up in Hawkes Bay where I went to the local Deaf Unit until my family moved to Wellington to ensure I could have the best possible access to education. After all, they were told I wouldn’t get past the reading age of seven years based on my hearing loss. I’ve also lived in Dunedin and Auckland, right now it is good to be home in Wellington again.

What’s your/your team’s most recent achievement?  

During COVID-19 we produced ‘I am Deaf/I am Hard of Hearing’ cards so people can inform staff how they need to communicate (this was at the height of the mask wearing era). The Rainbow Equity Lead saw this as an opportunity to create another card for people to state the name they wanted to be known by and their pronouns. Recently, we acknowledged pressure from other impairment groups to create a greater range of cards including speech impaired and anxiety. To me, this signifies the power disabled people take when they can inform staff how to accommodate them as individuals. It is a teaching tool for people and more importantly, facilitates the delivery of effective health services.

What are you most excited about in the new health reform?  

There is no better time to apply disability equity than through a time of change. 

What’s your next challenge?   

To see the disability actions in Te Pae Tata implemented so we can see real different particularly for tāngata whaikaha.