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From institutions to knighthood to the UN — Sir Robert Martin to continue push for disabled rights

Disability rights activist Sir Robert Martin says he wants to focus on ensuring people with disabilities are included in the community as he looks ahead in continuing his work with the United Nations. 

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Sir Robert says the challenges he faced growing up made him want to keep advocating for people with a disability. Source: 1 NEWS

It comes as Sir Robert was re-elected to his role in the UN Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Speaking of TVNZ1’s Breakfast this morning, he said the committee was focused on “asking questions” of governments around the world to make sure they were upholding the rights of people with disabilities. 

Sir Robert said his motivation to continue his advocacy work came from his upbringing in various institutions and his experience being a ward of the state. In his biography, Becoming a Person, Martin described the institutions as having inhumane and abusive environments. 

“Seeing what was done not only to me but thousands of other children that grew up in institutions and also state care as well, people think these places were fantastic places,” he said.

“But you’ve actually got to live in one to actually know what it was all about. 

“Why would you be segregated if you weren’t classed as a New Zealander?”

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He outlined some of the main issues people with a disability faced in New Zealand. 

This included the right to make decisions about themselves with assistance, the right to justice, parliamentary representation and being able to live in the community.

“It’s also about choosing with whom and where I live in the community.”

Access to education is also important for people with a disability, Sir Robert said.

“Education is so important … It’s linked to having a job and getting paid for the work we do.”

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He said it is also about being able to contribute to society and show “we can actually do things too”. 

Sir Robert was the first person with a learning disability to be elected to the Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

He was also the first person with a disability to be made a knight in New Zealand.