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Gov-General's Speech At Reception UN Plaza, NYC

Hon Anand Satyanand, PCNZM, QSO

Governor-General of New Zealand

Reception after Acceptance of Disability Award

6 May 2008 (Embargoed to 9am 7 May 2008 NZ Time)

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Mrs Ban, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen. In my contribution I wish to emphasise some of the points made earlier this evening.

I would first like to reiterate thanks to the World Committee on Disability and the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for bestowing the award on New Zealand. I wish to also thank all those people who have helped make this ceremony earlier and this reception such memorable occasions. My wife Susan and I will go home with very warm memories of this day.

We will also be able to report back to our fellow New Zealanders about the importance of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award. According to the United Nations, people with disabilities are the world’s largest minority. These are people from all walks of life, faiths, ethnicities and cultures and because of disease, malnutrition and the effects of war many more people with disabilities live in developing countries than the developed world.

Many of us live with disabilities or know someone who does. I know something of that experience, having suffered a C2 odontoid fracture in a serious car accident in 2002. As a result, I needed to wear halo traction equipment for several months. With my wife Susan’s patient help, despite the fact that she was also injured in the collision, I was able to recover. However, I am keenly aware that many others have not been so fortunate.

Despite their numbers, people with disabilities are often invisible to others. Often people fail to appreciate the hurdles that the modern world places in the way of those with a disability. Someone who is blind or vision impaired might have the right to vote, but that means little if they cannot complete the ballot form. A person in a wheelchair might have right to freedom of expression and association, but it means nothing if they cannot enter a building to participate in a public meeting. We might all have the right to an adequate standard of living, but that right is restricted for people who live in institutions, are separated from their families and stigmatised by the community.

New Zealand has been honoured here this evening for its ongoing commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities can live full lives. Our country has made significant improvements to our legal, policy and institutional framework through the Public Health and Disability Act, the New Zealand Disability Strategy, the appointment of a Minister for Disability Issues and the establishment of an Office for Disability Issues.

The work done to date in housing and transport, for example, has removed many of the barriers faced by people with disabilities in New Zealand. We have achieved much, but much remains to be done. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels. New Zealand was proud to be one of the first nations to the sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and we are working towards ratification.

However, although conventions, laws, strategies and regulations are important, they are only one stage in the journey. For words on paper to be meaningful, they must be reinforced by concrete deeds. Only if we remove the remaining hurdles that people with disabilities face can we finally tackle the biggest obstacle of all—deep seated attitudes and stereotypes. Only then, will those living with disabilities, and those who support them, truly be able to participate in our world. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “We must become the change we want to see.”

No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tena koutou katoa.


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