News and opinions on disability
and inclusion

How far have we come in the last 12 months?

Mike Pulman is a Communications Coordinator for CCS Disability Action Waikato/BoP and is a regular Public Speaker for various organisations in the disability sector. Mike is also a part time sports reporter for the All Blacks, Chiefs Rugby, and the Blackcaps cricket team. When not busy writing, Mike hosts a weekly talkback radio show. He was the winner of 2016’s Youth with Disability award.

It is with sadness that I begin this blog by announcing that as of December 31st, my contract with CCS Disability Action is over. Before I go any further today, I’d like to thank some very special people who’ve been crucial to my development. Bill Baker (former Team Leader in the Waikato), Jo Herbert (Regional Manager Midlands), Mel Gamble, Sam Murray, and the countless others who I’ve worked with in the past year or two.

I am sad to be departing my role as Communications Coordinator in the Waikato/Bay of Plenty, but I know that this will not be the last time you hear from me!

I am absolutely committed to advocating, challenging, and changing this sector for the better. Those with lived experience of disabilities are experts in their own lives, and I firmly believe that their voices and their perspectives need to be at the complete forefront of organisations such as these as the sector undergoes its biggest change in recent memory.

Anyway, onto today’s blog, and it’s going to be a good one!

Now, I am sure that we can all agree, society doesn’t understand disability in the way we would like. Some people have said to me that the big issue at play here is the fear, because disability is different, so therefore it is a little scary and uncomfortable.

We can all relate to that, right?

Personally, I cannot stand anything that is new or foreign to me. I am just like that society, in fact, I am a product of my society. Most of my friends would tell you that, or find out for yourself, just try and take me out for Sushi and see what happens!

However, I think that fear, in some cases, is also present within the disability sector.

The fear of trying new ways of doing things, and perhaps, stepping away from the notion of being a care provider, and becoming an enabler for people with disabilities. The last big revolution that our sector saw was the closing down of institutions; things shifted to the community and, finally, it was acknowledged that people with disabilities are deserving members of society.

Now, at the end of 2016, we find ourselves heading into the next big shift. Choice, control, flexibility, and the big point of discussion, people with disabilities being leaders of their own lives, and perhaps, leaders in this sector.

Personally, I am growing a little tired of all the discussion of this change. I myself have written about it many times this past 18-months, but it has dawned on me, the last big change we saw to service delivery took almost 20-years to fully implement. There is every chance that this one could take the same amount of time. But I really hope that isn’t the case.

Anyway, I digress.

In order for “the revolution” to be truly effective, we need to try a bit harder at engaging with the mainstream community. That brings me onto the social model of disability.

It states that disability is something that happens by society, and it is society that actually disables disabled people. It says that disability is the result of the interaction between people living with an impairment and barriers in the physical, attitudinal, communication, and social environment.

This is the very mantra that several organisations, and Government, by way of the latest Disability Strategy, believe in, and they say it presents the biggest barrier to fair and equal inclusion.

Fair enough. But how do we remove these barriers?

Ah! The golden question – and I really wish I had an answer. If you look at the new Disability Strategy and its eight outcomes, that should be your starting point, or at least, the Government’s.

For the purposes of this blog, I’d like to focus on community.

I understand that the mainstream community is often ignorant towards people with disabilities, but I wonder if actually working within that mainstream community, where said ignorance exists, is the best way forward.

To me, the benefit of trying to work alongside the community could be great. This has been an idea put forward many times before, and in some cases it is being implemented. After all, CCS Disability Action is a community-based organisation, is it not? The Measuring Accessible Journey’s project in the Waikato is a good example of this, but I think the more “out there in the spotlight” events like the International Day for Persons with Disabilities celebrations that we can have, the better it will be.

The mainstream community is a little wary of things that aren’t what they’d perceive to be normal, but we need to be more present in their limelight, not just our own.

For example, go to the “hot spots” around our cities and towns, wave the banner and be open to talking about disability. When I say wave the banner, I don’t mean to generate donations either, I mean have very open and very real discussions with the public. If we can generate the discussion of diversity, then that is a start too, and let’s not be afraid of tackling some of those more difficult subjects surrounding disability that have become all but taboo.

There comes a time when these discussions about how we can, and should for that matter, operate in a different way for the benefit of people with disabilities, need to occur.

The problem is, all of this is subjective, and up for debate, and it is this debate that perhaps holds us back. Like mainstream society and what the social model of disability suggests, perhaps it is our own attitudes that need to be changed in order to “ride the wave” of the growing change.

Call me sceptical, controversial, or radically-minded all you like, but just how far have we come in the past 12-months and have those difficult questions been asked? It may not be a comfortable question, but the answer will only come by asking.

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