An open letter to all New Zealanders from Paula Tesoriero, Disability Rights Commissioner

An open letter to all New Zealanders from Paula Tesoriero, Disability Rights Commissioner

November 30, 2017

Proud to be Me.

Today we start a campaign that’s about 24% of our population.

Nearly a quarter of us live with disability. Mothers, fathers, children, grandchildren. Of all ethnicities, incomes and living across Aotearoa.

So it’s important we take the opportunity to highlight the contributions they make to New Zealand and ensure this 24% is reflected in our workforce, service delivery, on boards and that barriers to full participation are removed.   

We are calling it Proud to be Me because it’s about some great people who have lived experience of disability and whose voices need to be at the centre of Disability Pride Week. For me Disability Pride Week is about being proud of disability and celebrating achievement through stories as a way of helping reduce misconceptions which act as a barrier to full participation in our community. 

I would like to pay tribute to the Kiwis who’ve shared their stories with us as we launch Proud to be Me: a website that celebrates the lives of Kiwis who live with disability.

We are also calling on other New Zealanders to share their stories with us.

From the young Samoan boy in the Cook Islands who is now a leading national advocate for disabled Pasifika youth: 

“While I was in the spinal unit I realized what I wanted to be in life, what I wanted to do in life. Some people would have looked at me and thought, oh well life has ended for him. For me, it was the opposite, life for me had just started. I decided I wanted to be a counsellor, a therapist who could help and listen to young people who’d gone through similar situations that I’d gone through. I remember going to see counsellors at the spinal unit and what pissed me off is I’d have to talk to counsellors who are able bodied who say to me things like: Kramer, I understand what you’re going through. And when you’re just a kid like me, you kind of listen to them and swear to yourself because. No. You really don’t understand what I’m going through because you are going to get up and walk out of this room. I’m not going to do that,” Kramer Hoeflich.

To the Waikato woman who has ended up driving a social enterprise empowering coffee growers (many of whom live with disability) in Mexico and educating New Zealanders to think about where our coffee comes from:

“Young New Zealanders will often talk about how few people like us we see in leadership roles. I didn’t grow up seeing many women business leaders living with disability running social enterprises founded on human rights. I didn’t grow up seeing many women like me doing their doctorate. So on top of everything else I hope what we are doing helps young teenage girls living with disability see just how many options there are for them. Their journey has only just begun,” Robbie Francis.

The Auckland High School teacher who makes the plea for radicalism: “In too many instances, our community’s loudest voices are service providers: well-intentioned, often able-bodied folk who rely on income from the Government to stay afloat. Yes, they have an important role to play, but by necessity, this approach is softly, softly. When you look at the history of civil rights movements, it is those radical people on the fringes – who are unapologetic about their views and their position – who make real change and nudge things forward – who are unapologetic about their views and their position,” Red Nicholson.

To the unforgettable Wellingtonian who’s also an award-winning performing artist: “My belief is that we are people. Humans are everyone. All of us. We need to remember that sometimes. We need to treat other people like humans more,” Duncan Armstrong.

We acknowledge the leadership of many including Rachel Noble and Nick Ruane who’ve made this week a reality.

I encourage New Zealanders to check out their stories here and learn more about Disability Pride Week and events here.