3 December 2019
By Debbie Ward National Disability Leadership Coordinator, CCS Disability Action
As a person who uses a wheelchair it’s a question I hear on an almost daily basis, “What’s wrong with you?”. The
assumptions behind that question speak to the attitudinal barriers I, and other disabled people in New Zealand really
should not have to face.
The 3rd December marks the annual United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities and for me, as a
disabled woman, it’s an important opportunity to tell my story and support the voices of other disabled people in
Aotearoa to be heard.
Why? Because for many years I couldn’t access what I needed and wanted just to live my life. I believed that this was
because I was the problem. I accepted that I should live with being overlooked, that I didn’t belong in everyday society
and that I should give up on any dreams I had of having a job, living in my own home, getting married and travelling. My
experience is no different to many disabled people across Aotearoa.
Later in life, I met other disabled people who challenged my thinking. They taught me that I had rights to live where I
choose, be employed, to access shops and restaurants to using public, just like every other New Zealander. They taught
me that the barriers I faced had nothing to do with my impairment and had everything to do with the environment and
attitudes of the society I live in. They taught me that disability can be a badge worn with pride.
Now, I want to live in a world where I am not perceived as being special, needy or a problem. I would like to live a
life where I am not treated or talked to differently just because I live my life sitting down.
Disabled people have much to offer. We should be able to participate as valued members of society and contribute our
talent, skills and knowledge. These barriers that disable people can be eliminated. As individuals we can change
attitudes. When we work together, New Zealand can become a more accepting and inclusive place.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities gives us an important opportunity to challenge perceptions and
old-fashioned thinking. We can begin conversations about inclusion and participation. It gives us an opportunity to
celebrate uniqueness and diversity.
It also gives us an opportunity to acknowledge that being different does not mean being less or being inherently wrong.
This December 3rd let’s think about what it would take to create a world where disabled people are not seen as requiring
fixing, neither are we inspiring or curiosities. Imagine seeing disabled people as simply people and living in a world
where our contributions were just as valued as everyone else’s. International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a
chance for us all to ask the right questions – and maybe learn to see the world in a new way.
Debbie Ward is the National Disability Leadership Coordinator for CCS Disability Action. She is also President of the
Workbridge Council and council member of the Disability Spirituality and Faith Network. She is originally from Hawke’s
Bay and now lives in Auckland.