People First New Zealand are proud of Cindy Johns, National Manager, who becomes an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to people with learning disability.

Cindy Johns

Cindy says she is “very proud to be recognised with a New Year honour. My son Tyler and others with learning disability have and continue to be my inspiration.”

Cindy’s pioneering influence in the disability rights field started with her experience of being a mum who only wanted the best for her children.

Since she first advocated for her son Tyler, who has Down Syndrome, to attend a mainstream primary school more than 30 years ago, Cindy has blazed her own trail. “His birth really set me off on a whole other journey, unexpectedly, but in a good way.”

Since then, Cindy has worked, both voluntary and professionally, alongside people with a learning disability and their families.

In the 1980s, Cindy set up the Taranaki branch of the New Zealand Down Syndrome Association and served on the Associations national board, two IHC committees, and Kāpiti Special Olympics for many years. She is the current chair of Family Networks NZ.

In her role as national advocate for IHC in the 2000s, Cindy assisted with establishing People First NZ. Today, as the National Manager, Cindy oversees its day-to-day running as a disabled persons organisation, led by and for people with learning disabilities, where members learn about disability rights and speaking up in their life and community.

She has promoted Easy Read, a way of writing in everyday words and images that assist understanding, to be a recognised alternate format. In her role, she also works closely with the Disabled Persons Organisation Coalition to implement disability rights to improve the lives of disabled people in New Zealand.

For the past 6 years, Cindy has assisted People First NZ life member, Sir Robert Martin, to undertake his role as an independent expert on the United Nations committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

One of the most memorable moments of her career was in 2001, when she organised a march involving hundreds of people to Wellington in support of a petition calling for the closure of the Kimberley Centre in Levin.

The day the group arrived at Parliament, then-Minister for Disability Issues Ruth Dyson announced the centre, where people with disabilities were sent to live, would be shut.

And whilst Cindy continues to advocate for deinstitutionalisation, she acknowledges, there is much work to be done, like ending the minimum wage exemption, before our New Zealand communities are truly inclusive of people with learning disability.

For more information, please contact Pip Townsend, Communications Manager:

phone or text: 027 210 3532
email: [email protected]