"Get a life — you're not on the Titanic," was one of the harsher comments from a Facebook friend in response to my last column about my neck.

Thanks, Kim! But I get it, reality is all relative.

I've been doing preliminary judging for the Attitude Awards this week. It's an honour. The Attitude Awards is an event that gets more glamorous, more prestigious and has a higher profile every year.

Attitude TV celebrates the rich diversity and exquisite value disabled people lend to New Zealand society. It's also rich and diverse in volume for judging, with eight categories, multiple applicants and multiple questions.


A common question on the entry form in most categories asks what hardships/barriers has this person had in terms of achieving, excelling, overcoming, not to mention triumphing.

When you are working with other disabled people you can't use yourself as a reference point. You have to get up in your virtual helicopter to see a bigger picture with multiple perspectives.

When people talk to their spouse, their voice can be analysed to not only predict if there will be a divorce, but when it will happen.

But it's hard. For instance I have a tendency to think, "have they got a speech impairment. No? Well, that's a walk in the park".

To me, when I talk I sound as normal and as clear as the sad sap sitting next to me (oops, sorry, Arlene, my long-suffering personal assistant). When I listen to my own voice on a recording, my reality crumples into a forlorn heap on a lonely, wet floor. My inner voice says "JAYZUS! No wonder!"

No wonder people can't understand me when I can't even understand myself on replay. No wonder strangers may think I'm intellectually impaired. No wonder I attempt verbal tap dances using humour to show off my intellect, rather than a stark focus on my voice.

Now yes, I know, everyone hates their voice when they hear it on a recording — well nearly everyone (Trump?). Apparently, this is because we are atomically and neurologically designed not to analyse our own voice too much. We hear our own voices differently to how we hear other people's. When you hear other people's voices the sound travels through the air while your own voice travels through your bones.

Because of this, your own voice is going to sound different. It travels to your inner ear which has a mechanical filter protecting it so it also reduces what you hear.

But here's the real kicker: Neurologists found out recently that when you open your mouth to create a sound, your own auditory cortex shuts down. So you hear your voice but your brain actually never listens to the sound.


Apparently expert voice analysis, human and artificial, can detect Parkinson's disease or heart disease in people before other symptoms present themselves.

When people talk to their spouse, their voice can be analysed to not only predict if there will be a divorce, but when it will happen. I wonder what the analysts would say if they heard my voice. I dare say it would be something like, "Shit, he's having a hard day!"

People sometimes hang up when I answer the phone. Charming.

In 2004, after a human-rights class action brought about by Whangārei Deaf activist Kim Robinson, Telecom introduced the NZ Relay system which enables deaf people to make phone calls by either typing into a telex-like device or an application on the website, which a Relay worker would then read out to the person who was being called.

A few years later NZ Relay added a "speech-to-speech" service for people with speech impairments. I remember the Northern Advocate phoning me when they were writing a story on the subject. The headline, "I'm not drunk or on drugs", says Jonny, along with a large photo of me, brought much sarcastic hilarity from my friends and family. Hmmm.

When all is said and done, speech is another unique identifier, rich with hidden subconscious messages by which we are all influenced. It is a powerful component of that all too overrated concept, the First Impression. People have hidden depths and people are shallow, people are genuine and people lie.

As in judging, you can't just take one single attribute into account — you can't stop at the first impression, you need grapple with the whole. So, I'd better get back to this judging. Only seven volumes to go…

■ Jonny Wilkinson is the CEO of Tiaho Trust — Disability A Matter of Perception, a Whangārei-based disability advocacy.