So about a few years ago there was a group of us, 8 or 10 disabled people who met regularly to try to better understand what is happening in the disability space in New Zealand right now.
As we started to unravel the situation we came to the realisation that we as a community were hardly visible. We needed to find a way to share our stories more. We used to have long gaps between meetings and one day over a coffee with Nick Ruane he turned to me and simply said: I think it’s time we had New Zealand Disability Pride Week. And the idea was born.
I was already planning an event related to the UN International Day for Disabled People so we agreed to trial something here in Wellington and see how it goes. We organised four events here with very little resourcing but a lot of positive energy. People were asking, Wow why hasn’t this been done before? Why isn’t there a national event?
A driver for me is that I come from the deaf community where there is a strong understanding of the deaf collective, culture and identity. Being proud of who you are as a deaf person, being proud of your identity is established.
You know I look at the women’s rights movement, the LGBTQI movement, sexual law reform and of course te reo Maori and tino rangatiratanga movement: they all came about from the energy of their communities. They begin with people.
So that got me thinking, we really need to find a way to demonstrate our pride. For our community and our people. And yet we are a very diverse community, we were often focused on our own projects so we rarely came together.
So we began in Wellington and it was a great success. In the first few months we set up a new committee, more joined and the kaupapa was strengthened. It had the right vision, the right set of values behind it and the right momentum to keep it going.
This year we are going national which is fantastic but I would say we are planting a seed for a bigger and better event. It is still being run on a voluntary basis, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity from so many helping us out. We are indebted to:
- Flight Deck for our website
- Wellington City Council
- Art Access Aotearoa
- Inclusive New Zealand
- Disabled People’s Association
- CCS Disability Action
- NZ Human Rights Commission, and more!
So we’ve done set up the kaupapa and this year we are raising awareness, sharing stories, spreading ideas and hopefully starting conversations.
The aim is that hopefully people will be able to build on top of the seed we planted this year. We’ve got funding for two events in Wellington, one is a tape art mural making community event.
Is is about whakapapa?
Absolutely. This is about our identity, who we are and being confident and proud to accept who we are. Not being ashamed.
Another thing is we often think we don’t talk to each other enough, one of the good things about Disability Pride Week is it brings different parts of the community together. So often we are focused on our own, specific projects. So we see the week in the same way as some see a language week or a cultural week, we aren’t asking for money it’s not an appeal. The kaupapa is important as it is about leadership and partnership with disabled New Zealanders, projecting our pride to our own community members as well as externally. We also need to honour those who are no longer with us but because of them, disabled people have made huge advancements. They helped create the future. People like Alexia Pickering who we lost recently. She is one of many whose passion and commitment created the world we are in today. We need to continue and to build on that legacy.
I think we are just now realising the influence that (Green Party MP) Mojo Mathers had by just being in parliament. Now we don’t have anybody in parliament who is openly disabled, there may be a few with impairments but we aren’t aware. For us, we know that now Mojo has gone there is nothing more powerful than working in a co-designed format, with people with lived experience of disability.
When we look at Sign Language Week it began with small beginnings and it quickly evolved and we saw change in New Zealanders attitudes. People are now very aware that our language is a national language of our country, something we can all be proud of but we need to put that into action. This raises acceptance and acceptance leads to attitude change. Everything we do is about being a generator for change, we hope that over time we will see a stronger community coming through.
What things would you like to do more of?
Working with young people, working on resources for schools so young children can learn about disabled people from our perspective. The recent incident in Wellington with the young woman being taunted and humiliated by her classmates, is why we need this. Those girls need to recognise that Holly is a whole person, who deserves respect just like they do. For Holly it is about power, reclaiming her power and her place as person. You wonder about the conversations that these girls’ families have about people with disabilities, people who are different. I was glad Holly’s story was on the front, she is brave, and she has already changed things. It’s hearts and minds stuff, it’s about challenging and changing attitudes.
We did an action search project around our proposals and there was overwhelming agreement that yes, there is a place for Disability Pride Week on our national social landscape.
There are people still uncomfortable about disability, we know the word disabled is still a dirty word for some.
Being disabled is about being a person first: There is nothing wrong with us, it’s less about us trying to be as normal as possible to fit in and more about how we can gain strength from accepting who we are in order to achieve our goals? If we have a greater sense of who we are individually and collectively, then we are in a stronger position to progress as people and as a cultural movement. We are better able to be confident to live our lives as we want to.