They were heady times in 2001. Well, they were for the disability community.
This was year zero for the unleashing of the New Zealand Disability Strategy. This beast was a completely different enchilada. It was a whole new approach to disability. It was based on the Social Model of Disability as opposed to the Medical Model.
The core of the concept was that individuals weren't disabled in their own right, they may have impairments, but it's the community or society or the physical environment that creates the disability.
Spectacular! It was a refreshing concept.
An analogy I use to explain the concept of the Social Model of Disability is that many of us have impaired vision. However we live in a society where corrective glasses and contact lenses are readily available. If we lived in a society where contact lenses and glasses weren't available, those people who need them would be disabled.
This is in sharp contrast with the Medical Model, which focuses on the disabled individual as the problem and endeavours to fix the problem or, alternatively, manage it.
The strategy had 15 objectives, spanning all the usual areas of one's life that largely dictate whether you have a decent time on this Earth, or a crap one. These encompassed education, leadership, cultural identity, employment and recreation.
So the time has come to rethink and renew the strategy and (to use good ol' Whangarei lingo) I'm stoked that I have been appointed to the review committee, responsible for this important work, albeit in an advisory role. The reason I wanted to be involved was to make sure that our disabled community are represented and have a say about the way forward.
One of the main issues of the first strategy has been its aspirational nature was let down somewhat by a low level of implementation. This point was highlighted by Chris Ford in his MA Thesis on the subject, "High on Aspiration, Low on Implementation: The development and implementation of the New Zealand Disability Strategy".
He pointed out that while the strategy was very laudable portraying the type of NZ many disabled people would like to live in, implementing it across government sectors proved a big challenge. It is something that many of the panellists are aware of. We will also do our best to encourage the Government to implement the new strategy with more gusto than the last one.
With this in mind, there is a huge impetus in the review committee and a feeling of responsibility to really shake things up and go back to the drawing board. This blank canvas approach is an opportunity for our community to have a voice.
Now, I know that we have all been consulted with ad nauseam and I know that revealing the barriers that disability presents to us gets very tedious. I do however implore you to feed into this opportunity to make sure we keep it real, representative and above all implementable.
So if you feel like being heard we are helping to host a public event in Whangarei called Join the Conversation on Friday May 20, 10am-1pm, at Forum North.
The Office for Disability Issues is leading the strategy development process and its director Megan McCoy will be attending the event.
If you can't come along, you can visit jointheconversation.nz to give your views. Bear in mind, the survey closes on May 22.
I'm hoping to see a diverse group of disabled people, their whanau and supporters come along. This will be one of the most crucial times to have our voice heard in the next decade.
See you there!