Bringing down barriers

STRONG VISION: Minnie Baragwanath has a dream for a full access New Zealand.
STRONG VISION: Minnie Baragwanath has a dream for a full access New Zealand.

A career spent working to make sure all New Zealanders are given the opportunity to explore and share their talents has seen Minnie Baragwanath's leadership skills honoured.

It has taken courage, resilience and most importantly passion for the Freeman's Bay founder and chief executive of advocacy organisation Be.Accessible to continue to push for better physical and societal access for those in the community with disabilities.

Ms Baragwanath is one of six people to be named Blake Leaders at the Sir Peter Blake Trust Leadership Awards on July 5.

Founded in 2011 Be.Accessible is a "social change initiative" aiming to broaden the way people view the world - in such a way that the unique abilities of all people are considered.

Before heading up the initiative Ms Baragwanath, who has a rare sight impairment, worked on TV show Upsidedown, now known as Attitude, and as a community adviser at the former Auckland City Council.

But Ms Baragwanath has been passionate about disability access since she was diagnosed with her eyesight problems in her teens.

"There seemed to be unnecessary barriers that made no sense to me," she says of the origins of her advocacy.

"It seemed strange we could send someone to the moon but not remove the barriers that made people's lives so difficult."

She places a big emphasis on reframing the language around disability.

"I talk a lot about there being a notion of disability and possibility.

"One is deficit focused and the other is about possibility and that's something that could apply to all of New Zealand."

Changing existing attitudes and norms is a tough battle at times which is why the need for strength and determination is so important.

"By its nature, creating change is challenging the status quo and that means you can find yourself in some sticky situations. That's the time to keep your courage and surround yourself with people who are also fabulously courageous."

Knowing exactly what she wants has been another key to her leadership success.

"The first thing is having the vision and deeply believing in it - you have to be the vision and embody it.

"I have a really clear vision for a full access New Zealand where all people can reach their best and contribute their best to all around them."

This focus was critical in getting the organisation off the ground at a time when government funding was tightly controlled.

"Tariana Turia got wind of what we were doing and she basically convinced the government to fund us.

"We have such a collective of people involved, I'm the face of it but it's such an incredible team of people."

Ms Baragwanath says she believes attitudes are slowly changing. "I think they are, I think on the whole people want to do the right thing and care about other people, but where things fall down is not being aware and not knowing how."

Auckland City Harbour News