We Have To Stop This: An Open Letter To The Disability Community (and Huhana Hickey)

Can’t see Huhana Hickey’s comments? That’s probably because they’ve since been deleted, or you’ve been blocked. That’s what happens with this sort of thing, the evidence gets deleted to cool the jets on a hot issue. That’s social media. It’s too easy (and frankly too acceptable) for us all to insult each other.

I know that because I used to be the master at doing it. I want to start with that unquestionable fact. I also want to acknowledge one thing from the outset of this blog.

I fully accept the mistakes I’ve made in the past when it comes to some posts I’ve published about New Zealand’s disability community, and specifically, a few of the people within it. At the time I felt justified and correct in what I’d said and posted, but do I look back and wish I’d done some things differently? Absolutely.

Nobody is perfect. I am the least perfect person I know and I think my track record can attest to that.

Every person I’ve ever met in this community has by and large been fighting for the same goal, and every one of these people have faced a high level of systemic injustice. That injustice fuels me to a great degree, it does make me angry, and it did once consume me.

It got to a point a couple of years ago, after falling out with a mentor, someone who I considered a good friend (almost a brother actually) where I had to look at myself in the mirror and ask if it was worth it.

Asking that question is the easy bit. Taking time away, going offline, telling yourself (and others) that your done, whatever, that’s the easy bit. If you’re only doing that you aren’t actually making a change at all.

I knew I’d made mistakes, I know he had made some too, and I knew that my hopes of getting back to the public speaking stage were probably gone at that point. I’d probably lost one of the only ally’s I had left.

It hurt, a lot. I had to own it.

I also felt a great sense of frustration toward our community, because it felt like we were all fighting each other. I felt that me and this person should have got into a room, without any influence of the third parties that were always present, and just hashed it out, like men.

I chose my mental health, deciding to take the very deliberate approach of stepping away from the disability community (especially in terms of advocacy) and focus my full attention on my work in sports media.

I think I made the right decision because now I’m getting more regular work than I ever have before. I’m busy each week, with deadlines to meet, people to interview and invoices to send.

To tell you the truth, I’m loving it and I’m feeling a real hunger to continue solely in this space. And I can tell you this, writing about rugby for a living might just be the simplest thing I can do moving forward, because I don’t know if there is any coming back now.

I wanted to start there and preamble my way into talking about the events that took place this week regarding a story I wrote about accessibility onboard the upcoming Te Huia commuter train between Hamilton and Auckland which, surprisingly, didn’t appear to go down well as anyone of us would have hoped. I want to address my comments about Huhana Hickey, and the specifics around that.

In terms of the specifics, here are the facts as they happened:

  1. Waikato Regional Council invited me onboard the Te Huia to provide feedback on the accessibility after two members of Waikato’s disability community recommended me.
  • While on the train, I asked several questions about the development of the accessibility, future plans, and how disabled people could book their place on board.
  • After speaking with Waikato News, a publication I’ve written for in the past (owned by NZME and a part of the NZ Herald), we agreed it would be a good idea to write an opinion piece rating the accessibility and my own personal thoughts on Te Huia.

(It’s worth pointing out that an opinion piece in news journalism is just that… somebody’s opinion and analysis of a certain topic).

  • On Friday morning, the day after publication, I had several screenshots sent to me by members of the disability community regarding comments Huhana Hickey had made about me on the Accessible Travel Facebook Group.
  • I was then notified by a Hamilton City councilor (a contact I’ve interviewed before) about a series of Tweets that Huhana Hickey had put in conversations, labelling me “mis-informed” and “disablist”.

The latter of those two labels is what lit a fire in me to speak out, and not for the first time when it comes to Huhana Hickey who’s publicly insinuated that I was a supporter of the gas chambers back in the Hitler reign for my choice to vote yes during last year’s End of Life Choice referendum.

After that experience, Huhana blocked me when I raised my concerns about the comments and asked for an apology.

Since then, her comments about me haven’t been just a couple of isolated examples here and there, but a pattern of behavior where disparaging comments about me have been made across several videos, posts, and on message boards, I do feel the need to defend myself and my credibility.

If it was just a few examples, ok I can live with that because criticism comes with being as outspoken as I have been in the past, but when it’s clearly opportunist and not genuine (because this isn’t really who Huhana is in my view) I start to have a problem.   

Have I been guilty of the same sorts of things in the past? Absolutely. But I was always up front about who I was speaking about and never hid from that by not allowing whoever it was I was talking about to see such things AND respond.

If I felt I went to far, or was told on no uncertain terms why I was wrong, I would delete posts.

What Huhana has done is block me so I’ve got no retort and continue to put down my credibility.

Only because of others have I come to learn of this. It was a friend in the community who sent me a video where Huhana made her first comments directed at me, where the host sarcastically asked “oh I wonder who that could be?” while knowing full well the connection the audience would’ve made.

Only because of others this week did I learn of the comments calling me mis-informed, unqualified to access the accessibility of the Te Huia, and labeling me a disablist.

Sounds petty doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

My point of speaking out in this blog is to encourage the disability community to stop this sort of behavior from happening. You called me out when I was wrong in the past, you need to call out this behavior too.

We must stamp out the narrative that underpins this sort of behavior. We must be YES BUT people. We cannot afford to be NO BUT people. Don’t simply call others mis-informed because they might not be your personal cup of tea, because you disagree with them, or believe they are wrong in any way.

Lastly, I want to thank those of you who messaged me over the weekend to give your views. The majority of the messages have been supportive and for that I’m truly grateful. Some have asked for the specifics, and I’ve provided them here.

We are better than this people. I hope that next time I try to do something good, from a genuine place, for the community I belong to, the feedback might be more positive.

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