People First New Zealand Ngā Tāngata Tuatahi would like to congratulate Carolyn Thomas of Rotorua on being awarded the 2016 Leona Gitmans Award for Self-Advocacy.

Carolyn Thomas

People First National Committee chooses who will win the award every year.  Last week it was presented to Carolyn at the ASID Conference held in Wellington.  Carolyn is a very active and valued member of the Rotorua Local Group in the Midland region. Here are some of things she has done:

  • She has been a member of the regional leadership project.
  • Carolyn speaks to service providers in Rotorua in their management team meetings about how self-advocacy impacts her life.
  • Carolyn supports people that have a learning disability in her community who can’t speak up for themselves, she attends meeting with them, offers her support with their issues, such as bullying, flatting conflicts, below standard services, etc.
  • Carolyn offered her services to provide training as part of orientation for new employees of a local service provider. She was able to give a personal account of what it is like to be a recipient of services and talk about the personal impact of receiving support that is below standard.
  • Carolyn empowers her fellow People First members to speak up and be known and acknowledged by the community.

Carolyn also has a passion for changing Taxi drivers’ attitudes towards to disabled people.

  • She wrote a letter to local taxis to highlight a lack of consideration when picking up people with disability in the taxi. She saw that taxi drivers often ignored the suggestions of shorter ways to get to their destination, instead taking slightly longer routes. The taxi company listened and improved the service.

Carolyn is a loyal committed and passionate People First member. At her local group she takes an interest in all the members.  She buys small Christmas presents for everyone and organises a midwinter Christmas for every June meeting.  She is a competent baker and always comes to meetings with cupcakes to share. Amazingly, she makes a butterfly cake for each anniversary of the Rotorua People First group and regional meetings. She ices the cake herself in traditional People First colours purple and green.

The award is named after Leona Gitmans, a woman who was very passionate about self advocacy. As well as a pounamu (greenstone necklace), certificate and $500, Carolyn was also presented with a mattress topper from Slumbertop – the business of the Gitmans family.

People First New Zealand would like to thank the Gitmans family for their continued support of self advocacy in New Zealand.  To find out more about Slumbertop see their website: