Rambling About International Day of Persons with Disabilities

I’ve never been one to indulge in days that celebrate a certain section of a community. I respect them for what they are, but it just isn’t for me. I take pride in myself and feel a strong sense of belonging to the world around me, regardless of what day it is.

A large part of me wonders what the point of International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) really is. Take the 2018 “theme” for this day as an example. This year the day aims to empower persons with disabilities and ensure inclusiveness and equality.

So, how do we ensure such things as inclusiveness and equality for disabled people?

My guess is, there will be a lot of opportunities for disabled leaders and influencers to share their views on the answer to those questions via various events held around the world on this day. That’s as it should be because December 3rd should act as a platform for robust discussion about how we remove the barriers that make society inaccessible for so many disabled people.

Furthermore, December 3rd provides an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate, to take a sense of pride and belonging to the disability community, and hopefully, raise awareness within the minds of the general, non-disabled public.

Don’t forget that IDPD is a United Nations (UN) concept that was formed in 1992. Just how to ensure inclusiveness and equality for disabled people will vary depending on the specific challenges and barriers different countries present.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the international disability community on December 3rd is the same as it is every other day of the year. That challenge is the continual need for the community to ask itself the hard question of its own awareness on the diverse range of issues at hand.

The answer to the question asked above goes well beyond the usual discussions of access to the built environment, education and employment, protection, policy, and new “person-centered” care supports. What we are talking about is the expectations and interpretations of what is “right” for disabled people.

That in itself is not an answer but it is most certainly something that carries many conversations around many decision-making tables, particularly in the disability community space.

New Zealand’s Minister for Disability Issues, Carmel Sepuloni, was exactly right when she wrote recently that the power to change things for the better actually lies, in large part, outside of the disability community and placed responsibility back on mainstream society.

That responsibility sits with creating those accessible environments, more inclusive and understanding schools and workplaces, but most of all, a commitment to actually making it all happen.

Remember the following phrase. There is no accountability without a commitment.

But what accountability do we as disabled people place on ourselves within this so-called “disability rights movement”?

When we look at that accountability we need to explore our own ideas and come to accept the fact that we don’t have all the right answers to solving this problem. Energy and enthusiasm don’t present the core skills required to ask yourself how to look at the equation differently or come up with the answers to solving it.

The answer is not found in just forming a strong community, and while a community is a benefit, it’s never been a determining factor. The answer is also not found having a great idea either, because great ideas are often turned into complete failures when they are executed poorly. The best way to poorly execute a great idea is to over complicate it by thinking of all the potential ramifications to moving forward with it.

Think about what you can do to add to the disability rights movement, but don’t do it just to mark December 3rd. Dare to be different dare to put yourself out there, and dare to think differently.

Dare to go out and do you.

Michael Pulman is a Hamilton-based writer, content creator, and public speaker. Michael has a strong interest in disability rights in New Zealand and in 2016 was a recipient of the Youth with Disability Award. You can get in touch with Michael via email at mikepulman91@gmail.com

Disability & Politics: Where To Next For New Zealand?

The fallout of the 2017 General Election has been disastrous for New Zealand’s disability community, and it signals an incredibly difficult three years ahead.

With the departure of Green MP Mojo Mathers, disability issues are now on the verge of being taken off the political agenda altogether.

Mathers was, arguably, the loudest voice for the rights of disabled New Zealanders at a political level. 24% of the national vote had the potential to make a difference, but the question of how many disabled people actually went out and voted remains unanswered. Mathers’ departure comes as so surprise, and it all reality, this sad reading should’ve been foreseen well in advance.

What Next For Disability Issues In NZ Politics?

Nicky Wagner’s future as Minister for Disability Issues is under serious question, especially now. Wagner failed to win in her home electorate, but the worst could be yet to come. Should Winston Peters form a Government with Labour and the Greens, things could change drastically again.

But the biggest loss for Parliament, from a disability and inclusivity standpoint, is again the departure of Mathers.

In early September, the disability community was encouraged to take a different approach towards the political discussion. Experts urged a change in language, asking community leaders to identify as voters, and not disabled people. Did that happen before election day? No, because the opportunity was never there.

Again, such thinking should have been foreseen by the disability community. Politicians care about votes, especially around election time. But what was the political investment in disability issues and the wider discussion? Little, to zero.

The Conservative & Uncommitted In The Disability Community Need To Get Real

What you saw on September 23rd was a large part of the 24% not making the effort to vote. Too many disabled people think that their voice won’t make a difference. You can understand where that thinking has come from, but it’s time for many in the community to get real and face facts.

Differences can be made, but the conservative and the uncommitted are slowing the entire process down.

The process is going to be difficult enough moving forward. Some of the community’s leading advocates are already considering putting themselves into local politics, and this signals a loss in faith of the wider sector. Drastic changes need to be made to the attitudes within so many organisations that claim to be in support of people with disabilities.

It is indeed a long road ahead, but like has been the case for so long before, the sector’s fate is within its own hands.