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‘Give us the respect and dignity you want for yourself’

Saturday 3 December 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Local, National

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‘Give us the respect and dignity you want for yourself’
Cook Islands National Disability Council (CINDC) president Mataiti. 22120215

Dancing away wearing their hearts on their sleeves, persons with disabilities joyfully celebrated the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities” to the sweet sounds of local band Harry and Tina Tumupu.

Full of abounding energy and a love for island tunes, Ngametua Nekeare hit the dance floor soon followed by Lani Tutai, Reon Enoka, Tia Napa, Michael Tuara and Rosie Aue, cheered on by their encouraging peers and guests.

Approximately one in four people in the Cook Islands live with a disability. Many people with disabilities face barriers to inclusion, and consequently people with disabilities do not enjoy access to basic services on an equal basis with able-bodied people. This includes areas of transport, employment, and education as well as social and political participation.

Tia Napa, Michael Tuara and Reon Enoka hit the dance floor to celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities. 22120217
Tia Napa, Michael Tuara and Reon Enoka hit the dance floor to celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities. 22120217

Yesterday, stakeholders including Are Pa Metua, Autism Cook Islands, Cook Islands Civil Society Organisations, Creative Centre, Down Syndrome Cook Islands, Te Kainga, National Council of Women, Te Vaerua Rehabilitation and Deaf Cook Islands Association gathered together to mark the commemoration day which is recognised worldwide.

Cook Islands National Disability Council (CINDC) president Mataiti Mataiti has physical disabilities – limited speech, and short vision and uses a computer to communicate.

Mataiti said: “On behalf of our mama (Tuki Wright) I would like to pass on her apologies, as she is in New Zealand at the moment for health reasons.”

“We are here to remember and celebrate this world event, and on behalf of CINDC I would like to thank our own Prime Minister Mark Brown and all invited guests for taking the time to attend this International Disability Day.

 Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities. 22120221
Celebrating International Day of Persons with Disabilities. 22120221

“To make this event an inclusive one, we moved it from (December) 3rd to today the 2nd so we all can come in oneness, to celebrate this day. I would like to thank my little team for helping make this day a memorable one, so to all of us here and also our people in the outer islands, let me say, Happy International Disability Day to you all, thank you,” said Mataiti.

National coordinator for CINDC, Destiny Tara Tolevu said: “Today is really to celebrate persons with disabilities, to do something they like, like dancing to the band – that’s what they wanted.”

“The main message is about wanting to be included, and there is discussion around accessibility and wanting to do more to address that.

“There aren’t many places on the island that are easily accessible for persons with disabilities, we want these issues addressed and we want people to know that they do matter.”

Special guest speakers at the event included Prime Minister Mark Brown, Ministry of Internal Affairs manager of social policy and services Princess Raukete and Cook Islands Ombudswoman Niki Rattle.

Brown acknowledged that while a lot has been achieved, there is still more that needs to be done.

The Prime Minister also took the opportunity to thank those who work directly with persons with disabilities including those who have been driving for their inclusion and accessibility for a long time as well as the teacher aides supporting the kids in schools, the service providers and the families themselves.

Tara Tolevu said: “It was a really important thing for him to do, and while I’m sure Government knows what they’ve done, its nice that the Government acknowledges the people who live with disabilities, and that was actually really nice.”

Ombudswoman Niki Rattle spoke about her role in relation to persons with disability and reminded everyone that if they have experienced discrimination or felt unfairly treated because they are a person with a disability, they could visit her in her office.

Today, Saturday December 3, persons with disabilities would like to ask the community to see them for who they are and not the disability they live with.

“Give us the respect and dignity you want for yourself”.

A delicious chocolate cake to mark the special occasion was shared and happily devoured.

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, commemoration event. 22120216
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, commemoration event. 22120216