Finding our name

Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People is the first Government agency to have its name in English, te reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language. Learn about how we got here.

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The journey to our name

When Cabinet agreed to establish the new Ministry in October 2021, they gave the Minister for Disability Issues, Minister for the Public Service and Minister of Health authority to determine its final name.

Officials and disabled people who first discussed how to create the name agreed it should include te reo Māori, English and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). This would make the new Ministry the first government department to have a name with all three languages.

The Establishment Unit, the Community Steering Group and Governance Group worked closely together to ensure the new Ministry’s name would be distinctive, representative of the communities it services, and one the community and the staff of the Ministry will be proud of.

Each part of our name has its own story.

Our te reo Māori name

The word 'Whaikaha' is closely associated with Maaka Tibble, a Ngāti Porou kaumatua, who has worked in the disability world for decades, including as a founding member of the Māori Disability Leadership Group.

Maaka Tibble is also blind, and in 2015 he found himself thinking that he was never comfortable with the word disability. Te reo Māori words like kāpō (blind), turi (deaf) and hauā (disabled) were also used to describe disabled people and he found all these words focused on deficiencies. This challenged him.

Maaka Tibble talks about being inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela, "how can we turn disability into ability, disharmony to harmony and disadvantage to advantage". He also talks about the influence of Sir Mason Durie, who had coined the term 'Whaiora', to mean to have wellbeing.

This led Maaka Tibble to suggest 'Whaikaha' or 'Tāngata Whaikaha', which are based on disabled people's strengths.

In 2016, as a founding member of the Māori Disability Leadership Group, Maaka Tibble is quoted saying "Tāngata Whaikaha means people who are determined to do well, or is certainly a goal that they reach for. It fits nicely with the goals and aims of people with disabilities who are determined in some way to do well and create opportunities for themselves as opposed to being labelled, as in the past."

Over time 'whaikaha' has become more and more widely used, and many in the disability community now claim this enabling word to describe themselves.

Engagement was key to our process to find the reo Māori part of the Ministry's name. Engagement included groups in the disabled community, Iwi chairs, and the wider community.

the conversation included the importance of the name having meaning for the whole disabled community, being easy to pronounce, and reflecting a positive view of disability. This journey quickly led to the word 'Whaikaha'. Maaka Tibble was happy for Whaikaha be used in the Ministry’s name – provided that it was "at the top of the letterhead".

Our steering and governance groups enthusiastically endorsed 'Whaikaha' as the reo Māori part of the name, and in line with Maaka Tibble's wish for it to be at the top of the letterhead, strongly agreed that it be the first part of the Ministry’s name.

The English part of our name

Back in March 2022, we worked with All is for All, a communications agency led by disabled people, to develop AmplifyU as an online way to connect with and hear from disabled people. We used this to hear from disabled people about what they wanted the English part of the Ministry’s name to be. We also discussed the name with disabled people in other ways.

Many people thought it important the name clearly said what the ministry was about, so they wanted ‘disabled people’ to be part of the name. People also wanted it to show that disabled people would be leaders and partners in the new ministry, rather than it being ‘for’ disabled people. So they wanted it to be Whaikaha - Ministry of Disabled People.

Our New Zealand Sign Language name

The one-handed sign TREE moving upwards reflects the rātā vine, which is part of the Whaikaha visual brand and whakatauākī – “Me he aka rātā ka tipu tahi, ka puāwai tahi kia tū kaha I ngā hihi ō Tamanuiterā – Like the rātā vines growing together and flourishing to stand strong in the warmth of the sun”.

The process to choose a sign name included the development of three options by an NZSL expert group, which included people from the NZSL Board, te rōpū Kaitiaki, Deaf Aotearoa, Deaf Action and the Deaf Studies Research Unit (DSRU) at Victoria University of Wellington.

Our sign name was voted on by the Deaf community and gifted to Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People by the NZSL Board and representatives of the Deaf community at parliament on 29 June 2023.