Paul Gibson has his work cut out for him. Working at the policy and strategic level, he’s tackling two of the biggest areas affecting disabled people’s lives: health and education.
Paul is the Senior Disability Advisor at Capital and Coast Health. He works to ensure DHBs, hospitals and health services are responsive to disabled people. “Some disabled people have health issues related to their impairment. When these are accounted for, disabled people have significantly worse health outcomes than non-disabled people,” says Paul.
His involvement in advocating for disability rights can be traced back to his university days. Here Paul met other disabled students at a time when disabled people were becoming more politicised. “We started naming discrimination when it existed and we were increasingly defining ourselves in social, rather than medical, terms.” In 1993, Paul was involved in setting up CAN DO at Victoria University, a group run by disabled students.
Paul is now working in a medical environment and meeting some challenges. “This is a largely clinical workforce and getting them to understand disability in social terms is not easy.”
Paul has a wealth of experience and skills to draw on. He went through the school system as a vision-impaired child. After a few stints at university, he gained a Masters degree in public policy. Paul has previously worked for two key disability organisations in New Zealand, the Disabled Persons Assembly and CCS Disability Action.
In connection with Paul’s position at Capital and Coast Health, he is one of five people who advise the Minister on the Review of Special Education, Hon Heather Roy. “All five of us come from very diverse backgrounds, but we each bring our knowledge and passion for education.”
In providing advice to the Minister Paul see his role as bringing a “perspective of a disabled person who has direct experience of the education system and knowledge gathered from years of working with disabled people and their families.
The Review of Special Education discussion document proposes a vision for education for disabled people. This vision includes what the disability community want, such as:
To be “continually learning, having friends, real jobs and enough money, things to do that are meaningful or of interest, a place to call home, loving relationships, and leaving behind a world better for our being here.”
Reflecting on his experience, Paul says, “New Zealand has been great at developing visions but struggles to implement these. Disability issues have not been given priority.”
Paul strongly encourages everyone to read and respond to the review discussion document.