New Advocacy Director impatient to see sector changes

August 5, 2022

New IHC Director of Advocacy Tania Thomas has waited too long to see positive changes happening for people with intellectual disabilities.

“We have spent a great deal of time defining the problems and issues in the disability sector. It’s time to find the solutions and to start implementing them. We have to think about different strategies.”

With the launch of the new Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People, she sees an opportunity to make progress.

Tania says the Government needs to prioritise a means to measure improvements happening in the lives of disabled people. “How do we know what is working if we don’t measure it? The basic statistics are missing,” she says.

Tania believes the answer is to create a movement of whānau, friends and communities to improve lives for disabled people.

“Together we can achieve more, and everyone has a role to play. We need to proactively make space for the voices of people with disabilities and their whānau. Imagine the positive change if people not used to being heard were heard by the people not used to listening.”

Tania has spent the past seven years as Manawhakahaere/Chief Executive of Kaupapa Māori disability support service Te Roopu Taurima. She is Ngāti Kahu on her father’s side and Scottish and Ngāti Mahurehure on her mother’s side. Based in Auckland, she is the mother of three adult daughters, one a midwife, one an early childhood educator and the third a customs officer. She has four grandchildren – all in Auckland.

She holds governance roles within her iwi authority and marae. Tania has also held leadership roles within the sector, including Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner and Director of the Centre for Family and Whānau Knowledge in the Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit of the Families Commission.

She is now relishing the opportunity to get back to pure advocacy. “When you get to my age – I get my gold card later this year – you get to think how can my skills and experience make a difference?

“Promoting inclusion for people with disabilities in all areas of life and upholding human rights is at the core of advocacy. I have an opportunity to hold those with power to account and to push for more positive change in the disability sector.

“Things are better than they were 40 years ago when I first entered the sector but there is still a long way to go if we as a society are truly going to accept that diversity, equity, inclusion and a good life is for everyone.”

Tania says over the years she has watched as IHC has supported other disability organisations, including Te Roopu Taurima, and acted with generosity.

“I really like the opportunity to work with my peers, who I respect a great deal.” She says that has been reinforced in her early weeks at IHC. “Everyone I have met as part of my induction is on the same page. The people have got the same ethos, belief and the desire for people to have a better life. Everybody was telling me the same story. Everybody can tell you the whakapapa of where their job and their department came from.

“For me it’s about fit-for-purpose support and housing, health, education, vocation and living the principles of enabling good lives. I have come with some ideas already, but I have got a lot of questioning, thinking and listening to do.”

Caption: Director of Advocacy Tania Thomas (left) with IHC Advocate Shara Turner.


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC membersRead the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.