The consumer leadership funding investment into People First New Zealand has had the single biggest impact on the rise of leaders with learning disability in New Zealand over the last 10 years.

Cindy Johns, the National Manager of People First New Zealand, Nga Tangata Tuatahi

"Five or more years ago there was only a handful of people with learning disability who we could say were true leaders across New Zealand. Now People First can call on a large number of members to fill diverse and high level roles from nearly all corners of the country." 

People First New Zealand, Nga Tangata Tuatahi, is a self-advocacy organisation that is led by people with learning disability for people with learning disability. One of their key beliefs is that a learning disability should not limit a person’s learning opportunities.

In 2013, People First completed Leadership Development training funded through the Consumer Leadership Development grant.

The training was two-tiered. The first tier involved six regional groups (Northern, Midland, Central, Top of the South, Mid-South and Southern) selecting a topic of interest to work on locally over several months. Then all the groups came together and presented to a national forum alongside other disabled leaders.

Northern group 'speaks up'

Northern group photoThe Northern group’s project, was called Speaking up with Power, which took participants through a variety of situations and used role play to help members understand relevant information and solidify their learning.

Members spoke up strongly about the positive personal changes they have seen since becoming involved in the leadership project. They said they have a better idea about what they are entitled to as part of the community and what they can expect from disability support services. They understand more about leadership roles and appear to be more confident putting themselves forward for and taking on these roles.

I find it easy to do things for myself, but I do ask for help if I need it. Before I was shy and scared to stand up in front of people but I pushed the shyness away.

I had low self confidence. I was a shy person but now I’m not. I found it scary to ask for help, now I am not as scared if I need to ask for help, but most of the time I do it myself. Dad has noticed a huge difference he said I have grown so fast.

Midland group examines the United Nations Convention

The Midland group looked at Article 12 of the United Nations Convention, which focuses on equal recognition before the law. Their project addressed the right to make ‘my own decisions’ and decision making concerns, exploring how members make decisions and who should be involved in any supported decision making process.


Central group embraces Pacific communities

The Central group focused on developing closer relationships with Pacific communities and increasing the Pacific membership of People First. They embarked on developing new networks in the Pacific community to identify the individuals and organisations critical to success.

With the help of the Central Regional Coordinator, the group set up a public speaking platform to allow current and prospective members to share their personal stories.

“It was such an empowering project with such positive impact for the members, and also for the organisation as we move forward and branch out into new cultures within New Zealand,” says Cindy Johns.

A big part of building new trusting relationships is to be able to tell your own story, which for many people with learning disability can be very hard, especially if no one has helped with writing down their history or learning about their culture."

Cindy Johns, national manager People First

Top of the South group learns to use Skype

The Top of the South leadership group wanted to improve their computer skills and identified Skype as a tool to help them learn.

Computer access has fast become the way of the world, but unfortunately for many people with learning disability it can be difficult to have access to a computer and the internet and learn how to use it in an accessible format.

The Top of the South Regional Coordinator used a practical, hands-on learning environment to create real time learning. Members were able to learn, use and see quick results all in one sitting with the advantage of being able to repeat learning in a safe and slowed down environment. Learning could also be applied independently at home or in other settings. Participants were able to touch base with the leadership group meetings if they came across problems and were supported to solve the technology issues.

The impact of the learning was significant. As people’s confidence with technology grew, so did their personal confidence - a fantastic result for People First.

Southern group interviews disability providers

The Southern group chose Behaviour Support for their leadership project. People First had been asked by Ministry of Health to be part of the national review of Behaviour Support Services (BSS),  but thought rather than having one member on the advisory group having a focused group on “What is Behaviour Support Services?” would be better. Members of the Southern group met and thought about how they would find out more about Behaviour Support Services. They decided to ask disability providers directly how they support people with challenging behaviour. The group went to the coal face and interviewed five service providers, after designing the interview questions themselves.

“This was a great experience for People First members and one would assume an interesting experience for the people interviewed who provide services to people with learning disability and had to answer the group’s questions.” Cindy Johns, National Manager People First

An outcome of this project has been that the Ministry of Health has asked the group to present their findings at a forum with two further forums planned.

“We believe that this work was just as beneficial to the Ministry of Health as it was to the People First leaders in the project, as evident by the on-going relationship facilitated by the Ministry of Health,” says Cindy Johns.

Mid-South group focused on spreading the word of People First and education

The Mid-South leadership group met and worked out ways of spreading the word about People First. The group comprised of younger members who had recently left school.

The group discussed ‘How school was for them’ and reflected on their school days. The members had the opportunity to develop a presentation based on their experiences of school alongside the IEAG (Inclusive Education Action Group). The group, with IEAG, presented findings at an international disability education conference in Christchurch where it was extremely popular. In response, the Ministry of Education invited the group to present to teachers and educators who are working on building the capacity in schools to include and educate students with disabilities. The group has presented at two other forums and more presentations are planned.

“The Mid-South regions leadership project was highly successful and members and the organisation are still benefiting from it,” says Cindy Johns.

Members of the Mid-South region leadership development training report a better understanding of the United Nations Convention and how it relates to their lives. They have increased their networks and strengthened their relationships with the education sector, schools, the Ministry of Education and other service providers.

“People’s confidence has built through public speaking and learning to use new tools such as Power Point presentations. One of the group has joined and external organisation which focuses on inclusive education. He has joined in his own right and has been elected onto their committee.” Cindy Johns, National Manager, People First.

National Forum

After completing the regional leadership development projects, all members participated in the 2013 national leadership forum in Wellington. They were excited to be part of a national forum and each regional group was given the opportunity to present their project.

“There was a lot of interaction and learning and the confidence of members has grown amazingly,” says Cindy Johns.

“A prime example of this is a young member who was very shy and the trip to the national leadership forum was the first time she had travelled away from her home town without her family. She gained so much confidence from the leadership project and the forum that she has again travelled with the Regional Co-ordinator to Motueka. She also helped organise the next regional meeting there and has also put her name forward to the UN Convention Coalition for a monitors role in their upcoming training.”

Cindy Johns believes strongly that being a People First member can change people’s lives in extremely positive ways. As a Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO), People First gives people with learning disability a strong national collective voice.

Leadership development is essential so that individuals learn skills and confidence to make changes in their own lives and take small steps to have courage to start speaking up for their rights and the rights of others with learning disability in New Zealand.

Cindy Johns, National Manager, People First.