Wanganui man Robert Martin missed out on a lot of things while growing up - popular music and culture, school, friends and awareness of significant events in New Zealand and the world.

His recently published book Becoming a Person describes his life in New Zealand institutions to becoming an international advocate for people with disabilities.

"I had worked with John McRae making training videos for IHC staff and the book was going to be a documentary until his camera was stolen," Mr Martin said. "I started making notes for the book in 2008 and now it has come together.

"I missed out on so many things growing up, I didn't know about the Kennedy assassinations, civil rights, or the Vietnam war until it was almost over.


"I didn't get the opportunity to make life-long friends at school and the music. I missed all that popular music that other people my age got to listen to."

Born in Wanganui in 1957 and diagnosed with brain damage after a difficult forceps delivery, his parents were advised to send him to live at the Kimberley Hospital and Training Centre in Levin. The centre, thought to be the biggest facility in the Southern Hemisphere for intellectually disabled people at one time, closed in 2006. It was the last of its type.

Young Robert would live in institutions until he was 15 and says he feels like he has spent years catching up on all the world events and popular culture he missed out on.

Mr Martin has been an advocate and keynote speaker for people with disabilities around the world, a role he enjoys, although it is challenging at times.

"I'm not a person who courts publicity, but feel like I should do it because I can. Sometimes I just find a quiet place where I can be by myself and people ask if there is something wrong. There's nothing wrong, it's just something I need to do."

Tariana Turia, as Minister for Disability Issues, nominated Mr Martin for a post on the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and he travelled to New York with the minister in June.

Mr Martin says he appreciates the support he has received from people like Mrs Turia and Mr McRae.

"What I would really like to see is an official apology from the Government to those of us who were institutionalised, or made wards of the state.

"People who move to New Zealand from overseas get to have a welcome ceremony from the mayor and their citizenship is acknowledged.

"We spent a big part of our lives without enjoying the rights and responsibilities of citizens and it would be good to have that officially recognised."

Mr Martin who lives in Wanganui with his wife, Lynda, is a Wanganui IHC board member and involved with Sommerville Disability Support Services as well as the Balance Whanganui mental health trust. He also referees football and coaches cricket.

On the national and international scene, he's involved with the Human Rights Commission, Inclusion International and People First.

If he is selected for a place on the committee, he will hold that post from 2017 until 2020 and travel to Switzerland twice a year as well visiting other countries to speak and learn about their policies for people with disabilities.

Becoming a Person will have an official launch in Wanganui in the next few weeks.