"We all have strengths and weaknesses and although my weaknesses are plainly obvious, I want people to see that there is more to me than the label they give me."

By Kim Clark

I am proud to be a part of a community of people who I can relate to. However, in the same way I don’t let my impairment define me. Being “disabled” has always been a label for me. It’s never been something that I personally relate to. Although visually and physically I tick all the boxes, and that parking sticker says “disability”, I will never label myself “disabled”. 

I believe disability pride is a chance for people to recognise that although we have an impairment we’re still just like them. To me disability is the inability to do something so I say to people, “I can’t walk, and I can’t speak very well, can you do everything? Are you the best cook? Are you the greatest artist, builder, or greatest with numbers? I imagine not”. We all have strengths and weaknesses and although my weaknesses are plainly obvious, I want people to see that there is more to me than the label they give me.

What does disability pride not mean to you?

Disability pride for me is not about felling sorry for myself or feeling bitter about my circumstances. Having an impairment doesn’t mean I’m gonna sit on the sidelines watch people live their lives while I sit around doing nothing and it doesn’t mean that I have nothing to offer to this society.

How has having a disability affected your life?

From day one, growing up with three older siblings, in my house, “you can’t” was never spoken over me. Growing up with three older siblings, I did what they did and I was given the same opportunity’s albeit in modified capacity. I remember when I was eight I was doing an obstacle course and one of the things I had to do was ride a skateboard while carrying a cup of water. With balance being an issue one person in charge said “ok kim you can sit on the skateboard and hold the water and your mum can pushes you along”. My mum then asked me what I wanted to do and I of course said I wanted to ride the skateboard like everyone else. My mum could’ve said “ok yes you’re right, it’s too difficult”, but no she enabled me to be like everyone else. I road that skateboard with my mum and sister holding me up and I finished the course. I feel blessed to have grown up in a family where “no you can’t” was replaced with “yes you can”.

Over the years there have been times where I get annoyed or upset that I can’t walk or do things other people can but then remember i’ve got a really cool wheelchair that can go faster than everyone else.

In my life people have offered me the easy options - the sitting on the skateboard instead of standing on it, the “you just sit back”, and everyone else speak, the people saying “you can’t get on the bus your wheelchair is too wide” when I know I can fit. Being the determined person that I am, I get past peoples’ “can’t” and replace it with “can”. With this determination I am now in my third year of study, studying a Bachelor Applied Management at Manukau Institute of Technology majoring in accounting and I have one year left of my degree. At times I bus to and from my classes at MIT and I speak up for others when their voice isn’t heard.

Had I listened to peoples’ “you can’t” and “no’s” don’t know where I would have been, or what I would’ve been doing. 

I’m now three years into my study, for the past two years I have the student representative for Disability. Over the past two years I been able to give a voice to students who otherwise wouldn’t have had a voice. Times in my life people have tried to quiet my voice and so if I can stop this from happening to other people, I will be their advocate. Over the past two years as rep, I have seen huge changes at MIT. MIT is becoming more accessible for people with impairments and I am proud to be apart of the changes they are making.

I’ve never seen disability as a limitation. I can’t walk, but I can still get around. People have always said “you inspire me” and although my first response is “thanks but find inspiration in yourself” my second response is always “well if me living my life with my condition is enough to help you pick yourself up, then I can do that”. 

What can we do better as a community and as a country?

I think there is stigma around disability. As a community and country I feel we need to recognise that people who have impairments have something to offer to society and that it’s something we can talk about. I feel one of the biggest issue we face is how people perceive people who have impairments. From my experience when I’m out in public I see children stare at me and I hear children asking their parents “mum why can’t they walk, why are they in a chair?”. Too often the response I hear is “stop staring it’s rude” or “shhh we don’t ask that”. I feel these response make us seem scary or different. Yes of course staring is rude and some questions children ask may be embarrassing or upsetting however I would rather parents say “look their wheelchair is pretty cool ay?” and “they’re in a chair because they can’t walk very well but they are just like you and I”. I feel if we are to improve and change this community and country there needs to be a partnership between us and the caregivers of our tamariki. Caregivers need to realise that allowing children to ask questions is a good thing and we as people with impairments need to understand that if people are truly going to see us as being like them and not scary people we need to allow these children to ask questions. The questions they ask may be embarrassing, they may be upsetting, but if we forgive and know they are on their own journey toward knowledge and better understanding, when we answer their questions, we can be proud in knowing we are having a impact in their lives that will shape how they feel and perceive people living with impairments; a perception that will affect their beliefs, actions and choices well into their future. 

What do you think about the future for disabled New Zealanders?

I think the future for disabled New Zealanders is bright. There’s been a lot in the media about disability and a lot about the things people with impairments have been doing to improve the society we live in. If we start sharing positivity and equality I feel one day we could be equally valued in peoples’ eyes. 

Has things changed since you were small? For better or for worse?

I feel there is greater awareness of disability in society but I really feel it can be improved. I believe it starts with the parents, and the main educator of our tamariki.

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