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On leadership group for nation’s disabled

Gisborne woman Sandra Wood has been appointed to a national disabled leadership group.

The new group, brought together by Life Unlimited, will bring a mix of expertise, lived experience and fresh thinking to help inform the future direction of the organisation and the services it delivers.

Sandra Wood has been a paraplegic for 23 years — as she says, “a horse gave her a hongi and he won.”

She also has breast cancer but remains an active advocate for disabled people.

She is also a member of the disability advisory group for Gisborne District Council.

Of Ngati Haua/Mahanga/Kahu ki Whangaroa/Tauiwi descent, and a mother, grandmother, she describes her children as “her backbone.”

“On agreeing to be a member (of Life Unlimited) it is with the aspiration to develop strategy, implementation methodology and probable policy improvement for delivery and serviceability for the impaired and support networks of our society — wholly,” she says.

“Being a paraplegic for 23 years does not mean I am an expert in this field, rather that I am experienced and – live it – where I believe this group’s primary focus is.”

Her concerns are not only about the disabled or physically- impaired of the Tairawhiti region, but also for our rapidly aging community.

“They fall through the chasms created by policy, location, lack of cohesive support networks and lack of empathetic understanding of pride and wants — often categorised by mainstream as a ‘need’.”

Her paraplegia is a result of a horse accident at Waipiro Bay in November 1993, which broke her neck.

“Following fusion of my neck, it was discovered that an anomaly existed in the thoracic section ascribed as being cancer. However, I still exist.

“The last 15 months has seen breast cancer as being a part of my repertoire and steps have been taken to eradicate with ongoing care a constant.

“I consider myself very fortunate that I have received and continue to receive attentive expert and caring healthcare.

“However, support networks and care outside the medical arena has been woeful — there were gaping holes then that still exist now.”

She says she is best described as being of a forthright, imperious, often gregarious nature, with a wry sense of humour.

“I can only hope that I am able to be effective in this role — for all.”

Members of the eight-person group have experience covering a range of disabilities, geographic locations and cultural backgrounds, and include people either living with a disability themselves or supporting immediate family with disabilities.

The group will have a hands-on role with wide-ranging responsibilities, which include reviewing the delivery of disability information to ensure ongoing quality.

It will also provide continued input into the development of the online information hub, including contributing new content and story ideas.

Another challenge for the disabled leadership group will be the exploration of new ideas for service improvement. They will be responsible for testing and providing ongoing feedback on the management of newly-implemented initiatives.

The group will also focus on advocacy, raising any issues or concerns for the disability community on the implementation and management of services, and improvement initiatives across the sector.

Sandra Wood