Sometime the community of disabled people is so busy fighting battles that we forget the gains we have made, and don’t give ourselves the credit or the time to celebrate. Happily a recent celebration was an exception. We celebrated the tenth birthday of People First New Zealand as an independent organisation.
As I listened to the learning disabled members, advocates and officers of People First speaking, and generally running things, I was taken back to my childhood, when people with learning disabilities were mocked, not seen as “real people” and often “put away” in the depersonalised language of the day, as if they were objects you could literally put away somewhere and forget about. And people did. Contemporaries of mine have sometimes discovered they had siblings of whose existence they were totally unaware.
But out of all this came a movement, led by learning disabled people themselves. They demanded recognition and rights, from the grassroots right up to the United Nations. When I was first involved in the disability rights movement, to my shame, people with learning disabilities were not included, sometimes actively excluded. Now the last of the big institutions are closed, and learning disabled people are taking their rightful place at the disabled people’s rights table.
A selection of People First’s achievements over ten years, in no particular order;
- Changing language from “intellectual disability” to “learning disability”
- Working on the successful repeal of the discriminatory Disabled Persons Employment Promotion Act
- Lobbying and marching for closing the big institutions, Kimberley was the last to go.
- Members addressed international conferences and gave some stunning presentations at home.
- Robert Martin was the first person with a learning disability to address the United Nations during negotiations for the Disability Rights Convention, (CRPD). I was there. It was a great, very moving speech.
- A DVD about voting was made with the Electoral Commission
- Employment advocates were trained. The award-winning world first Easy Read Individual Employment Agreement, satisfying all legal requirements, was produced.
- People First is an important member of the CRPD monitoring mechanism, the Convention Coalition Monitoring Group, with other disabled people’s organisations, (DPOs)
There is still much to be done, but together we can do it all. The disability community joined People First to celebrate at Parliament, and to launch the new logo, web site and Facebook page. Later there was a full-on party where again people with learning disabilities were in charge, including the music.
Thanks People First for including us all in the celebrations. May the next ten years be even better!