Since 2019, the Netherlands has an unofficial Minister of Disability Affairs. Rick Brink who has OI and is using an electric wheelchair, won this appointment during the broadcast of the television programme ‘De minister van Gehandicaptenzaken’ (The Minister of Disability Affairs). Brink was elected by a jury, including former cyclist Leontien van Moorsel, cabaret artist Vincent Bijlo and former Minister Ronald Plasterk, from six candidates.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Rick Brink, I am 34 years old and live in Hardenberg, The Netherlands. When I am not busy working, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends.

How did you get your job as Minister of Disability Affairs?
In June of this year I was elected as the very first Minister of Disability Affairs by the Dutch viewers during a live television show aired by the Dutch broadcasting network KRO NCRV. I applied for the job in March, had to go through three selection rounds and made it through to the live show in June with 5 other candidates. Out of the one-hundred-and-thirty people who applied I became the first Minister of Disability Affairs.

How does a ‘normal’ day look like as Minister?
From the moment I was elected there has not been a normal day. I now represent the needs of the 2 million people with disabilities that live in the Netherlands. So you can imagine we, my team and I, are very busy trying to truly make a difference for all the people we represent. Every Monday we discuss the upcoming week, so I am well prepared. But still every day is different and often unexpected things happen. For instance, I can get a call if I can be a guest on a talk show the next day or do an interview, that wasn’t planned, that makes the evening news. But the majority of my days are spend talking to influential politicians, people with disabilities and organizations and interest groups.

What are your main goals as Minister of Disability Affairs?
My absolute main goal is to create a truly inclusive society. And I have three goals I hope will contribute to creating an inclusive society:

First of all, an inclusive start for children with disabilities, because I believe we can do better. It is my goal to create a society that is accessible to every child. This means a special focus on inclusive education and on inclusive playgrounds where children with and without a disability can play together. I believe when children with and without disabilities interact with each other from early on, this will reduce stigma and negative thoughts and support inclusion.

Secondly, in the Netherlands a lot of students with disabilities have trouble finding a suitable internship. This sometimes leads to them not being able to complete their degree. That is why I have set myself the goal of creating thousand internships for students with disabilities.

My third and final goal is to promote the visibility of people with disabilities in the media. People with disabilities are rarely visible on Dutch television and when they are, they are usually there to talk about their disability, not to talk about their talents or expertise. I want to change this. I want to focus on their abilities instead of their disabilities. People with an impairment are more than their disability, this is a part of them but not all there is to them. They have talents and it is high time these talents are recognized and seen. That is why we created De Koffer van Rick. In De Koffer van Rick we collect the CVs of talented people who also happen to have a disability. We will present these CVs to producers to help and encourage them to create more inclusive programs.

Den Haag, 3 december 2019 – Rick Brink with the Minister for Health, and youngsters promoting a project that encourages people playing games together. Photo: Phil Nijhuis

What are the biggest opportunities and challenges of having this position?
My motto is: We are not our disability, we are our talent! I hope that I, through this position and the fact that I have a disability myself, can contribute to changing the way people with disabilities are viewed in our society.

Is there anything you like to tell the readers of OIFE Magazine?
It is important that people with a disability are open about their situation. Some people recognize the condition I have and know what it entails, but there are many who don’t. In my experience, when people don’t know anything about the condition I have, people can get uncomfortable. They are unsure whether they can ask me questions, don’t know if and when to help me. So I tell them about myself and what I have. I explain the condition to them and how it affects me. By starting the conversation about my situation and how it affects me, people understand it better and are able to offer me the support I need. If you are honest and open about your situation, what you can and cannot do and what you would like others to do for you, you make life easier for yourself as well as for the people around you.