The time for talk is over, Mana Whaikaha is a go, and the latest round of implementing a new disability support system that aims to give disabled people more choice and control begins.

Around 150 people in the MidCentral are already slated to be a part of the early stages of the prototype, and outside of the region, people will be watching the rollout keenly with a sense of cautious optimism.

In the back of many minds is the question of what the end result of the “try, learn, and adjust” approach in the MidCentral will mean for how disability support is delivered in other regions around New Zealand once all is said and done. But for now, the team in the MidCentral will have two years to iron out the kinks in what is a bold new way of both implementing and delivering support to disabled people and families.

Like Christchurch and Waikato before them, the MidCentral has the opportunity to test out what phrases like “choice and control” and “person-centered supports” look like in practice, but this will be the first look at an implementation of a policy for disability supports has been designed alongside members of the disability community.

The seeds for change on how disability services are delivered were first signaled in 2008, so it has taken ten years of long, tireless, and often thankless work that’s been performed amongst either growing skepticism. That hard work needs to be acknowledged, as does the clear benefit of a co-design process, something that has never happened in the development of disability policy in New Zealand before.  

Mana Whaikaha, as the prototype will be known by, means to reflect people’s strength, influence, and dignity, as well as their life essence. The brand was co-designed in 2018 by a group of disabled people, whanau representatives, providers, and Government officials who wanted to decide on branding that would represent the new disability system, with a key emphasis being on waka, the Maori translation for boat.

The waka, according to branding information, is a positive and uplifting symbol with disabled people and whanau having the control they want for their lives.

Mana Whaikaha will have 16 connectors available right across the MidCentral region. The connector will work alongside disabled people and families in the new system to access services and support, whilst always acting as an ally. In previous demonstrations of Enabling Good Lives, the connector role has worked well, and there is every reason for it to do the same in the MidCentral, provided workloads are managed well and each participant in the MidCentral gets adequate support based on the context of their needs.

Mana Whaikaha To Work In Space Of Ever-Growing Hope And Concern

Concerns amongst some disabled pundits remain over the cost of implementing Mana Whaikaha beyond the MidCentral.

Some say that the cost of implementing such a system nationwide would be too expensive for the Government to consider and that by the time it comes to regions outside of the MidCentral, the product would effectively be watered down and be unable to provide enough flexible funding options for real choice and control versus what may be possible in the existing system already. 

Others argue that certain sections of the disability community were left out of the process of designing this bold new system altogether, including the deaf community. The team in the MidCentral have countered this by employing at least one connector with NZSL expertise. Concerns over how workers rights will be protected remain, as do concerns about how capped the funding model for individuals will be. 

But there is no doubting that despite the concerns, MidCentral has a big opportunity to get themselves on the front foot over the next two years.

In terms of funding for participants in the MidCentral, information on the new Mana Whaikaha website suggests that decisions will be made by a funding coordinator. Prior to this, participants will be required to fill out a funding form, with an estimate of the amount and cost of the support being a requirement on that form.

This suggests that it will be crucial for both the person applying for help and their connector to have a good idea about what the package could look like prior to going for approval.

All Systems Go In The MidCentral As Mana Whaikaha Officially Kicks Off

There is every reason to be equally as optimistic and cautious about the rollout of Mana Whaikaha, but the foundations of delivering quality support for disabled people should always be about individuals and their own contexts.

Delivering quality support for disabled people is about taking into account the context in which those supports are delivered, and how those supports act as the backbone to everything else that occurs in that person’s life. To understand that on an individual level takes time, and it is important that the connectors in the MidCentral are not pushed for time so they can truly build that relationship and subsequent understanding for the people they are supporting.

And thus, as the exciting next phase of how the disability support system implements its changes begins, we must always keep the people, their contexts, and what works best for them at the absolute forefront of our minds.

The best of luck to the team on the ground in the MidCentral.