The International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities

December 3, 2014

Clearly more government action is needed to provide New Zealanders with disabilities the human rights they deserve.

New Zealand ratified the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2008 but disabled people continue to experience serious discrimination.  All over the world, disabled people are not experiencing the human rights most other people take for granted.

On average New Zealand’s intellectually disabled people die 23 years younger than the rest of the population, some are abused in care, and there is a desperate need for better job opportunities.

Disabled people are still too often on the fringes of society and struggling. They are struggling financially by having trouble getting jobs, family carers are struggling with the costs of caring, some disabled people are suffering by being put in isolation, and many are still struggling to have access to the basics like proper access to public buildings.

Major progress is needed on three primary matters next year: Firstly, a real commitment from government to work to end the practice of seclusion of people with a mental health disability.

Secondly, schools are directed to accommodate children with disabilities so that local children are part of their community.

Thirdly, I want to see a commitment to properly protect disabled people from abuse and neglect. This is still going on and is not being dealt with.

Many New Zealand employers are not employing people with a disability, even when they can clearly do the job as well as a non-disabled person.

In a 2012 research report, 78 per cent of employers said that disabled New Zealanders are discriminated against.

The most common employment complaint to the Human Rights Commission is about disability discrimination. Disabled people have repeatedly reported not getting interviews because they acknowledged their disability to the potential employer.

Generally the treatment of New Zealand’s disabled people who were put in state care has been bad. New Zealand disabled people are now rightfully asking the government to formally apologise for the historic abuse in state care.

A global leader in this demand for social change is Whanganui man Robert Martin. Robert has been nominated by the New Zealand Government to be a member of the United Nations Committee on the Disability Convention.

If he is elected onto the committee in 2016 he will be the world’s first person with an intellectual disability to hold a position like this on a United Nations committee.

Robert spends a great deal of time speaking around the world with his message ‘nothing about us without us’ and encourages various countries to unlock their doors and open their hearts and minds to ways to include not exclude people with disabilities.

Next Thursday I am speaking at the formal launch and celebration of Robert’s book, Becoming a Person where he tells his story of his life as someone ‘behind bars’ (in institutes) to now, as he lives freely with his wife in Whanganui and enjoys his passion for sport.

It is so much more fruitful for all New Zealanders if we include rather than exclude people. The disability convention shows how disabled people can live great lives alongside you and me. Human rights are the rights of all humans.

Disability Rights Commisioner Paul Gibson

Paul Gibson took up his position as Commissioner with responsibilities for disability issues on 26 September 2011, the day New Zealand ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008.

Mr Gibson is a former president of the Disabled People’s Assembly and was involved in the work of international NGOs advocating for the United Nations to adopt a Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Mr Gibson is partially blind and uses Braille and assistive technology.

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