Disability and invisibility: celebration and achievement, or a journey into detention

Disability and invisibility: celebration and achievement, or a journey into detention

December 3, 2015


Internationally, the biggest problem in making disabled people's rights real has been identified as our invisibility. Including people with not so visible learning disabilities in everyday activity can be challenging, but the inclusion of these people must urgently be achieved.

I believe that recognising the needs and the strengths of people with a range of disabilities, which effect learning early in life, and accommodating them will change lives. By realising that someone can't just change their behaviour or just 'do better' at school without extra support and understanding will, I believe, lead to lives saved and a more tolerant and less judgemental society for all of us to enjoy. Many people with disabilities related to learning who are included and supported achieve great things.

International evidence tells us less visible disabilities such as dyslexia, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), those on the autism spectrum, and other communication disabilities don't get the support of the state that they should have.

Because of this, many are not only dropping out of school early because they are failing, they are sometimes unfortunately on the road to a life in and out of detention.

Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft is convinced that appropriate education for those with learning disabilities is virtually a silver bullet to prevent much of our youth offending and to protect them from harm and disaster. Wouldn't it be nice to have less of our future adults on the road to prison? Leaving these children to flounder and suffer, to be excluded and left behind with broken hearts and minds is unacceptable to me.

Sadly, because a person with learning difficulties and social learning difficulties can be disruptive (challenging), they can be shunned by society. Youth Court Judge Tony Fitzgerald points out that people with FAS are probably the most prevalent form of intellectual disability he sees in court. Over half of the people in prison have some kind of learning disability. So this begs the question as to why we are not doing more to prevent this slippery slope to this disastrous adulthood. We must do better.

A robust method to identify and accommodate young children with these, collectively known as 'neuro-developmental disabilities', is urgently needed to realise inclusion in schools and also to prevent further exclusion and isolation of these vulnerable children later on as teenagers.

Over the year I have been particularly focused on working to get the needs of people with 'fringe' learning disabilities front of mind for policy-makers so their needs are included in education. This is a human rights issue. Everyone has the right to a fair go and to be treated equally. Treating people with mild learning disabilities the same as others without a disability is not equality in practice and is unfair because these people need and deserve more support to have a proper chance of success.

Today, December 3, is UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. It celebrates the United Nations Disability Convention. This year's theme is 'Inclusion Matters: Access and Empowerment of people of all abilities'. The Human Rights Commission has this year led a nationwide campaign to today bring the lives of disabled people into the minds of more New Zealanders.

In support of the campaign CCS Disability Action, IHC, Government Ministers, People First, WorkBridge, Spectrum Care Services, and several schools and workplaces are holding orange themed morning teas and wearing orange wrist bands. Orange is for visibility (think all those people on the building sites in orange visibility vests) and orange is for inclusion. Orange wrist bands are being worn today by workers, carers, disabled people, Members of Parliament and at the Attitude Awards tonight.

One in four of us live with a disability. Today we celebrate our diversity. We achieve, not despite, but because of who we are. We all deserve to be included fully.

Learn More:

Learn more about the International Day of Persons with Disabilities here

Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson

Paul Gibson became Commissioner with responsibilities for disability issues in 2011. 

Mr Gibson is a former president of the Disabled People’s Assembly and was involved in the development of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD).

Mr Gibson is partially blind and uses Braille and assistive technology. Paul has twenty years of experience in the health and disability sector including working for Capital Coast District Health Board as a senior disability adviser.

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