City seen as ideal for disability centre

Paul Gibson.
Paul Gibson.
When Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson speaks, everyone listens.

Some, even, are captivated by his vision for a society where disabilities are viewed not as impairments but as another facet of the complex human condition.

Recently, Mr Gibson, who is partially blind, outlined his vision for Otago University positioning itself as the centre for disability studies in New Zealand.

In the last census, 24% of New Zealanders identified as having some form of disability, and Mr Gibson said this was enough of a ''critical mass to push for significant change''.

''Otago has a unique opportunity to lead the field in disability studies - and I am not saying this to any other universities in New Zealand.''

Mr Gibson said medical research into disabilities always caused a ''hullabaloo'', but the social aspect of living with a disability was under-resourced and under-studied.

Gill Rutherford, a senior lecturer in disability studies at Otago University, said the idea of an Otago centre for disability studies was floated at a conference in 2011 and had been gaining momentum since.

''Disability studies involves a completely different way of thinking about disability. So it's not the traditional way of thinking in the medical or clinical way, but thinking about disability as a human rights issue, as a natural, inherent part of being human and with the leadership by disabled people.''

New Zealand used to be considered a world leader on disability action, but not any more, Mr Gibson said.

Sallyjane Cranfield, service manager for Disability Information Service Otago, said Dunedin was the right city to host a dedicated centre for disability studies, as it already had a well-established sector.

''Functioning with a disability is often made harder by barriers such as lack of finance, poor facilities, social ignorance, or simply not knowing who to turn to ... I am certain that the folk of Dunedin that we serve would have no problems with being ''guinea pigs'' for a disabilities studies centre that could highlight their issues and, more importantly, find resolution for them.'' 

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