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Community Matters - Don’t see disabilities as handicaps


Our national sports teams are an important part of our collective identity and we certainly get very focussed when our New Zealand teams are playing, and very excited when we do well on the world stage. The Paralympics (Parallel Olympics) this year in Rio was no exception. Following on from the able bodied Olympics event, it showed New Zealand disabled athletes competing exceptionally well, and exceeding their expected medal tally. The special moments common in Olympics were no less for our paralympians, and we felt proud and delighted by their achievements. Local Northlanders Cameron Leslie, Emma Foy and Chris Sharp showed us that disabled athletes could achieve their dreams in the same way non-disabled athletes did in Rio a few weeks prior.

In delivering a clear message that a disability does not have to be seen as a handicap, Northland College have named head boy and girl for 2017 as Aroha Lawrence and Te Kopa Kopa, both of whom are wheelchair users. They stood out among their peers as leaders and have taken on the roles with humility and pride, and nobody is saying they can’t do it.

We are living in an age and a country that, on the surface at least, does not limit us because of our gender, religion, sexual orientation or age. We tell our children that if they believe in a goal strongly enough and show determination and the right attitude, then they can achieve their dreams. Is this the same for those with a disability? How inclusive are we when it comes to people with disabilities?

Northland sports a number of disability organisations and groups who provide information and services for those with specific disabilities. North Able, CCS Disability Action and Tiaho Trust, among others, provide services across the range of disabilities and are also strong advocates for improving lives and empowering those with disabilities.

The New Zealand Disabilty Strategy has been revised this year, and is ready for launching in the next couple of months. The new strategy aims to enable New Zealand to better support disabled people to achieve their potential, and create a fully inclusive society, by highly valuing lives and enhancing full participation.

There are of course still stereotypes, stigma and deficit thinking when it comes to those with disabilities or indeed anyone not the “norm.” Disabilities that people face should not be made into handicaps by our lack of inclusiveness, or negative stereotypes, so that more disabled people are able to achieve their dreams.

Northland District Health Board, through legislation, has a Disability Support Advisory Committee, which is run in conjunction with their Community and Public Health committee. I will be involved with this committee as a newly elected member of the district health board, so will make myself familiar with the new strategy when it is relaunched, and the action that is needed to implement it.

Those of us involved in community organisations and groups could also do well to review how we cater for, and include, those with disabilites in our organisations.

n Otamatea Ward councillor, Libby Jones, is involved in many community organisations in both paid and volunteer roles. She has experience in social services,

health and education including governance, funding, research, clinical and management roles.

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