Rick Brink, Minister of Disability Affairs

7 September 2020

Brink was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a 'brittle bone' disease. As a result, his bones break quickly and he has been in a wheelchair all his life. He is open about his condition and is convinced that mutual understanding is the first step towards inclusion. On June 17, 2019, he was elected the very first Minister of Disability Affairs in our country, an initiative of broadcaster KRO-NCRV. For a year, he will focus entirely on boosting the inclusion of people with disabilities in the Netherlands.

You started on June 17, 2019. Your term of office is one year, or can you continue for a little longer?

Well, the ministry would actually last 1 year. But when we were on the road for a few months, KRO-NCRV already asked me if I would be interested in continuing to do this longer. I had to think about that for a while. My life was literally and figuratively turned upside down. I then had a very good conversation with my team and KRO-NCRV and also said that I would like to continue working with the same people. This team, of eight people, works so well together and we have built up a large network, which I want to keep. And I also wanted to be more active in the lobby. So be more present in The Hague. Because all that media attention is great, but in the end you really want to achieve something with the policymakers.

And the corona crisis, how does it affect your work?

The corona crisis is very annoying for everyone. Everyone suffers from that. But if anything good has come of it, it is the attention for people with disabilities. As a result, the ministry has also made a significant leap forward. When the crisis came, we already had a solid network, with more than 150 organizations affiliated with us, which helps. Because working together is very important, you cannot do it alone. I notice that if we clearly indicate what is wrong, what really bothers people with a disability, and you immediately give a possible solution direction, then movement will automatically start. 

What was your dot on the horizon when you took office?

I want The Hague to become convinced that there should be a minister who stands up for this target group. At the moment, politicians say that actually all ministers are a bit 'minister of disability affairs', because they all represent those interests in their policy area. But I would like to see one person, one watchdog appointed for this, who pushes all departments on this subject a little bit. I like to see that model. And because of the crisis, many more problems have surfaced, so I hope that the chance that there will be has also increased a bit.

If they asked you to do that, would you do it?

They can always ask me, sure. But you're never bigger than the subject, so if it's better for the target audience to have another person there, fine, that's what needs to be done.

Can you name a few highlights of the past year?

We really see a cut between the period before and during corona. After corona, I can't say much about that because we are still in the middle of that. Before corona, I think it's very nice that we signed the SamenSpeelAkorde. We do this with 14 major parties, including the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Handicapped Child and Jantje Beton. If you are going to do something about inclusion, you really have to start with the children. Children must learn that children with disabilities are not scary and vice versa. Just before the election I sat at the table with Minister De Jonge and I told him that I wanted to do this and he immediately said that he would help. And now we are in talks with the Postcode Lottery and the Vriendenloterij to see if we can get funding for more inclusive playgrounds.

A second highlight is that we have developed a good plan together with the organization Studeren en Werken op Maat. With this plan we will help many students with a disability to find an internship. Because we cannot change the entire labor market in one year, but we can tackle the run-up to that labor market. In this way we can really build a bridge between the target group and the business community, because that has proven to be very difficult.

Where would you like to see people with disabilities in the future?

I would like to see people with disabilities more visible in the media. And not just to talk about their disability, but as an expert on the topic, and happen to have a disability. Then something really changes.

And I would like to see more people with disabilities active in politics. This can be in ministries, in the House of Representatives or as ministers. We do have members of parliament such as Lisa Westerveld, who demand a lot of attention for this subject, but of course that sound has to come from the people themselves. That also means letting people with disabilities know they can do it and inspiring them to take the step.

But then things still have to change, because even if you as a municipal councilor have attended a meeting until late in the evening and you need transport home or home help, then that must still be there at that time of course.

What are you focusing on for the coming period?

The one and a half meter society is very radical for people with disabilities. So we have to keep a close eye on what they need. For example, now that the day attractions are allowed to open again, we have formed a large coalition with parties to see what all these new safety protocols mean for people with disabilities. For example, all zoos in the Netherlands are affiliated with this. But also the Efteling, the HISWA-RECRON. And expertise parties such as Bartiméus and Elke(in). A small example is that many organizations in daytime recreation indicate their one and a half meter markings with chains. Now look at how dangerous that is for people with a visual impairment. And we need to tackle those kinds of issues right now.

How do you view an initiative like scribit.pro?

I think that's very good. I was once on a working visit to Bartiméus and they showed me an app for audio description for films (Earcatch ed.). That's really good for inclusion. Later I was at the NPO and of course immediately asked what the NPO does about audio description. That subject is complicated, because it is expensive. But there is also an important role for politics. Because they can provide financing or legal anchoring.