The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been observed since 1992 to “promote action to raise awareness about disability issues and draw attention to the benefits of an inclusive and accessible society for all.” Every year, IDPD has a theme set by the UN. This year’s was “Inclusion Matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities.”
In light of this, the Human Rights Commission decided to lead a national campaign to encourage people to celebrate the day. Adopting Australia’s choice of orange as the colour of “inclusion”, we sent out about 6,500 wristbands with the text “Inclusion Matters Dec 3” on them for people to wear and encouraged people to host orange-themed morning teas in their communities.
All sorts of individuals and groups got involved. From Trinda in Kaitaia, a young disabled person who wanted a few bands for her family members, to Blind and Low Vision Education Network (BLENNZ) students who wore their bands at their end-of-year school concert, to staff of Wellington’s CQ Hotel, the first hotel in New Zealand with a menu in sign language, people across New Zealand celebrated the day in their own unique ways.
This included The Cube, a service provider for and by disabled young people, which hosted the Minister for Disability Issues, Hon Nicky Wagner, and Disability Rights Commissioner, Paul Gibson, at an afternoon tea in Takapuna.
The afternoon began with some entertainment. First, a Pasifika-themed dance performance, which made me daydream of lounging on a beach in the Pacific Islands. This was followed by a poetry reading by the Cube’s Youth Engagement Group chair. Entitled “Black Rock”, which paid tribute to the place he had his accident – a very powerful piece.
Then came a discussion with Minister Wagner about issues facing young disabled people. Gaining meaningful employment and securing suitable housing were the two main issues put forward by the group as young people expressed their expectations, rightly, of moving out of home and being included in the workforce.
After some food and a few photo ops, it was time to head back to the city for New Zealand’s annual premier disability-focused event: the Attitude Awards.
First held in 2008, the Awards celebrate the achievements of people who live with disability nationwide. Held at Auckland’s Viaduct Events Centre, the night is a glamorous black tie event which includes a three-course meal, entertainment by disabled artists, and the announcement of the winners across the eight categories of awards.
The night is always a highlight on the events calendar, and this year was no exception. MCed by the ever professional Simon Dallow for the eighth time, the awards kicked off with a worldwide launch of “Long White Cloud”, a song created for next year’s Rio Paralympics and produced to drive public awareness of the 1 in 4 Kiwis who experience disability.
Learning about each finalist and watching the winners accept their awards was a real highlight too. We were even lucky enough to meet some of them; namely Youth, and later, Supreme Award winner, Muskan Devta, an extraordinary young writer and advocate passionate about human rights, Yaniv Janson, a 23-year-old artist whose work has been the subject of a book adopted by UNESCO and distributed in schools around the world, and nineteen-year-old sailor Otis Horne who sailed solo across Cook Strait earlier this year.
Meeting these young people doing such amazing things proved age is no barrier. Finding something you enjoy doing and working hard to do it well is what counts.
This was again highlighted by Hall of Fame inductee, Gary Williams, a leader in the disability sector for over 40 years. Gary, amongst a multitude of other things, played a key role in drafting the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Gary is one of the greatest leaders of his generation. He has laid an incredible foundation for young disabled leaders, such as the finalists we met, to build upon. In his acceptance speech, Gary said he is “standing on the shoulders of giants”. For disabled people in my generation, Gary is one of those giants.
And so ended the Awards and IDPD for another year; a jam packed, but fabulous day of recognition, pride, and celebration.
After spending time with friends, old and new, until the wee hours of the morning, I went to check into my hotel. Being so late, reception was closed, so I collected my key from a lockbox and headed to my room. To my dismay, it was not wheelchair accessible as I had requested. Our work’s not over yet!