This week marks the start of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, giving us another chance to cheer on athletes from our own country and celebrate the achievements of athletes from around the world. 

This week also sees the launch of the WeThe15 campaign, a campaign striving to end the discrimination against persons with disabilities.  The number 15 relates to the reported percentage who live with a disability – 15% - resulting in 1.2 billion people worldwide.  Launching this campaign at the start of the Tokyo Paralympic games is deliberate, utilising the media coverage gained from this event to start a decade long campaign to increase disability visibility, accessibility and inclusion.   

WeThe15 brings the biggest coalition ever of international organisations from the worlds of sport, human rights, policy, business, arts and entertainment, a truly collaborative project to initiate change. 

In recent years progress has been made in breaking down stereotypes related to gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, with the momentum for change now shifting to making disability at the heart of diversity and inclusion agenda.  WeThe15 aims to break down societal and systemic barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from fulfilling their potential and being active members of society. 

The majority of us who work in the health sector have some insight into what it means to live with a disability, we see the challenges that can arise due to a lack of mobility, or lack of vision or having a brain that does not function in a typical way.  However the majority of us only get a snapshot into a person’s life, once we finish our working day we go home to our own homes and activities and lives.   

What some of us may fail to identify is that the often uneventful lives that many of us live is often what a person with a disability is wanting to achieve – the right to live in their own home, to access their own communities, to experience joy and belonging just like everyone else. 

‘disability is not the most interesting thing about us’ 

‘we are the entrepreneurs, mothers, fathers, neighbours, friends’ 

In Australia and New Zealand, change is certainly in the wind at a policy level with funding relating to meeting disability related needs.  In some areas, a person with a disability has a greater level of choice and control in their ability to set goals and use funding to achieve these goals.  Achieving these policy shifts has taken some time and further work is required to achieve a balance between autonomy of the person with the disability and long-term sustainability of the funding, but it does represent a step in the right direction.  

Policy changes are only one aspect of the WeThe15 goal  change is also needed at a society level.  Challenges at a society level can be as simple as ensuring all people can access a building or as complex as the potential employers looking past a person’s disability when interviewing potential employees.  Again there has been progress towards making public buildings accessible and resourcing towards helping find employment, but as a society are we confident at ‘walking the talk’?   

Is inclusivity for all a goal that can be achieved?  The answer may lie with future generations.  In some areas, the quest for inclusivity can be seen in our schools, with all students having the right to attend their local school.  This has meant that a child with a disability can attend school with their peers in their own community, regardless of their needs.  For some, this has not been smooth sailing, with parents needing to work through pre-conceived ideas of the school team, however in the classroom and playground some heart-warming interactions can be seen - kids of all ages adapting a game so everyone can join us, kids accepting that another may need some quiet time or more time to complete a task, and kids just being kids – seeing the person before the disability, including some delightful conversations around some of the pragmatic aspects of a person’s disability. 

As a reader of this blog what can you do?  We can all lend our voices to the WeThe15 campaign to help raise awareness in our wider communities, lend our voices to the fact that each and every one of us is just a person, wanting to live a wonderfully ordinary, wonderfully human, life.  Let's all get involved!

Rachel Maher
Clinical Education Specialist

Rachel Maher graduated from the University of Otago in 2003 with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Physiotherapy (Neurorehabilitation) in 2010. 

Rachel gained experience in inpatient rehabilitation and community Physiotherapy, before moving into a Child Development Service.Rachel moved into a Wheelchair and Seating Outreach Advisor role at Enable New Zealand in 2014, complementing her clinical knowledge with experience in NZ Ministry of Health funding processes. 

Rachel joined Permobil in June 2020, and is passionate about education and working collaboratively to achieve the best result for our end users. 

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