Susan Sherrard leads the Disability Action Team in CCS Disability Action Auckland branch.
We in the Northern Region started celebrating the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities, held on 3rd December, about seven years ago. We have celebrated the day in a variety of ways – from putting a chocolate and small card acknowledging the day on everyone’s desk to holding large community based events showcasing disabled people’s talents. Last year, we decided to turn the charity stereotype on its head by giving away cupcakes to members of the public and then explaining why. Interestingly, the public were quite challenged by the free cupcake and some people even insisted they give us money!
Why do we celebrate disabled people? There are still so many negative attitudes towards disabled people out in the community. The barriers we experience everyday from patronising attitudes, to lack of access on so-called public transport, to the issues around equipment, information, housing and employment. We are not seen as valued members of our community. We are not seen as whānau members, parents, supporters, tax payers or citizens. We use the 3rd of December to challenge those attitudes by celebrating who we are.
This year we are having a Disability Pride Gathering in our local Mall. Sure, it’s not going to change the world, but we will be a group of disabled people who are proud of who we are – people with impairments. We are not ashamed, will not hide away, don’t believe having an impairment is bad or wrong – but part of who we are as people. We want to celebrate by being together and this simple act of being together in a public place may just change some attitudes, but if it doesn’t we’ll still have a good time.
Disabled people have so many talents, skills, knowledge and experiences. We are all individuals with different aspirations and goals, but we all experience to some degree the disabling effects of a society that doesn’t include us. With the launch of the updated New Zealand Disability Strategy, we are still, fifteen years after the first strategy, aiming for a non-disabling society where disabled people have equal opportunities. There have been some improvements in the last fifteen years. One of the biggest is probably the signing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008 and this year the signing of the Optional Protocol, enabling disabled people to go to the United Nations if their human rights have been breached. While these important, high level changes are significant, they don’t put food on the table, create jobs or change attitudes.
A day to celebrate disabled people is fun, informative and will maybe make people think a little differently.