Today (3 December) CM Health celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a United Nations sanctioned day that celebrates progress in breaking down barriers, opening doors, and realising an inclusive society for all. I’m joined by Ezekiel Robson, who is passionate about raising awareness, understanding and acceptance of people living with disabilities and their achievements. Ezekiel has been a community appointed representative on CM Health’s DiSAC (Disability Support Advisory Committee) for the past ten years, and recently joined our Patient & Whaanau Centred Care Consumer Council.
I grew up in Manurewa, so South Auckland is what I have always known. Growing up in this multicultural community, with a high proportion of maaori and pacific people gives me a particular ‘lens’ on the world. I have always had a vision impairment, and while there is no treatment, I have learned to find alternative ways to navigate the world around me, which relies so heavily on visual interaction. Many people may consider this a disability but it’s just another part of me, and my uniqueness – not all impairments ‘need fixing’ or can be ‘fixed’.
I have a strong connection to my community, and I want it to be an inclusive place. What I mean by that is I want it to be a place where people have a sense of belonging and good physical access to local community services and supports, whether it’s for healthcare, employment or education, public transport or even routine grocery shopping, as well as social and family activities at parks, playgrounds and libraries. The reality is a lot of people don’t feel empowered by the inaccessible design of paths, streets, and buildings, or welcomed by the attitudes of some people in their community – they feel marginalised. The reason I do what I do is to use my experiences and abilities to help people feel connected with their communities.
A report produced by Te Pou: Mental health, addiction and disability workforce development shows that people with mental health conditions have a life expectancy reduced by up to 25 years compared with those who don’t. Similarly, a Ministry of Health report on people with intellectual disabilities shows poorer health outcomes and lower average life expectancy of 18 fewer years for men and 23 fewer years of life for women. The research also shows that when these people come into contact with health and disability services, their physical health is being neglected. What this tells me is that we need to look beyond a person’s disability and deal with the health condition or ailment they came in with. They should be treated as people first, their health condition second and their disability third, if relevant. CM Health’s Mental Health Unit has been taking a close look at how they can make the interface between mental health and physical health services, particularly in localities much more seamless.
CM Health is also committed to ensuring people with disabilities are represented and have a voice. This includes membership on the Consumer Council, input into the co-design of services, guidance on wayfinding and raising the profile of disabled people by promoting International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December at Ko Awatea. The theme this year is: ‘Inclusion matters: access and empowerment of people of all abilities’, and the associated colour is orange.
The Human Rights Commission states that “the estimated one billion people living with disabilities worldwide face many barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society. As a result, people with disabilities do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others. It is important to focus on the ability and not the disability. By promoting empowerment, real opportunities for people are created.”
The challenge is how do we have a workforce that has the right attitude and information so people can provide the best care and support? Do we provide training or is there a better way? How can we collect data on patients with disabilities? Currently, we collect statistics on gender, age, culture, etc. However, we don’t consistently collect information on impairments. For example, how many people with vision impairment stayed in the cardiac service? How many Deaf people have used maternity services this year? This information would be helpful to ensure we provide the most appropriate services.
People can also take personal action in their jobs to show that inclusion matters. If you are a nurse on the ward and a visitor with a disability arrives to see a patient, don’t charge ahead – wait to see that the person is following you. A colleague was talking to me the other day about a couple, who were both using wheelchairs for mobility. The staff member said to the patient being discharged – “Is there anyone that can come and help you.” The patient’s partner was sitting right there and felt excluded and disregarded as being the person to help. Most often people with disabilities are seen as the passive recipients of care as opposed to providing help for others. We need to work together to reduce assumptions and the associated stigma.
In the future, I’d like to see our workforce look more like the people we serve. Just as we like to see more maaori and pacific people in healthcare careers, I’d like to see the diversity of our workforce include people who have disabilities. This diverse group of people have valuable skills and experience to offer.
Ezekiel and Geraint
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