Paul Gibson: Still work to do on disabled rights

Robert Martin's story had an impact around the world. Photo / APN
Robert Martin's story had an impact around the world. Photo / APN

For a child to grow up in a family is a human right.

To be welcomed at your local school and be educated is a human right.

For older people to make their own decisions is a human right.

To be free from violence, abuse and neglect is a human right.

To have decent work and a fair income, to have the support you need to live in the community, to access your marae and culture, to receive adequate health care, to read and understand public information: these are all human rights.

Most New Zealanders take such rights for granted, but they're rights often not realised by disabled people.

The Human Rights Commission, the Ombudsman and a coalition of disabled people's organisations have released a report monitoring the rights of disabled people.

Those rights are spelled out in international law and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and have been agreed to by the New Zealand government.

Human rights are not just about abuses carried out by despots on war-torn foreign shores. Is it any worse a human rights abuse for a Kiwi to be locked in seclusion in a mental health facility for years than for a political prisoner to be locked away with occasional periods of solitary confinement?

On the bright side, we are slowly influencing change in New Zealand. Our latest monitoring report found there's a lot of work to do, but since the first such report 18 months ago the Government has made progress in involving disabled people and their representative organisations in developing solutions.

During the development of the disability convention at the UN, Robert Martin, a New Zealander with an intellectual disability, told of being taken from his family aged 18 months and locked in the Kimberly institution.

Robert was subjected to various forms of abuse, and later organised the world's first strike by workers in a sheltered work environment.

His story and ability to link the stories of his friends had an effect around the world on how we think about human rights solutions and whose voices should lead discussions and participate in decision-making.

Government leaders and officials at the UN learnt from him. The disability rights movement needs its icons to be recognised by everyone who regards themselves as human rights champions.

Robert, like Nelson Mandela, deserves a Nobel Prize.

We lead the world in human rights, but finding solutions to violations of disabled people's rights requires more than good intentions. There continues to be complacency, invisibility, uninterest, even a tolerance for disabled people's lack of rights. The monitoring report is a call to action, a series of recommendations that will be implemented only if we all start to challenge that invisibility and complacency.

*For the report on the disability convention click here.

Paul Gibson is the disability rights commissioner.

- NZ Herald

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