Many people do not realise that the late, great Desmond Tutu was a disability activist, along with his many other roles striving for the rights of people across all spectra of humanity. I was fortunate indeed to meet Arch Bishop Tutu on a number of occasions. First in Sydney, Australia, at the World Assembly of Disabled Peoples’ International, in December 1994, where he told the audience about his own impairment issues. At this time I also learned from him, about how many thousands and possibly millions of disabled people were exterminated, in the Nazi death camps.
I was struck by Arch Bishop Tutu’s calm but very passionate certainty about the human rights of all disabled people. He was also very clear that, in order for disabled people to become fully autonomous with respect to everything concerning us, we must be brave; fully prepared to rock the boat, and speak out for our own right to self-determination. I have a much treasured photo of my colleague and myself hugging Arch Bishop Tutu after his speech. He was a joy to speak with and I will always treasure his advice to disabled people around the world, that we should be prepared to do everything we can to take control of our places and spaces and speak up for ourselves.
As disabled New Zealanders begin the journey towards the establishment of our own place: a ministry for disabled people, let us not be afraid to demand control of this and everything about us! The journey may be difficult but remember, in insisting on taking control of our own destinies, we demonstrate the very point we seek to make, that we are more than capable of choosing for ourselves, making our own decisions and acting upon these.
RIP dear Arch Bishop Tutu. Your memory and inspiration will certainly live on.