Each time the honours lists come out someone opines that they are achronistic and we should be rid of them.
I disagree. It is good to recognise ordinary people doing extraordinary things Among whom, in this year’s honours list is Sir Robert Martin.
Robert Martin wanted a leader that looked and sounded like him, and when there wasn’t one, he decided to fill the gap.
Having spent more than 30 years advocating for the rights of disabled New Zealanders, Sir Robert has been made a knight companion in the New Year’s Honours list.
He has a learning disability and spent much of his childhood inside institutions and living with foster parents.
He was a witness at the inquiry into abuse in state care. The knighthood doesn’t make up for the shocking abuse he suffered there but all he’s achieved in spite of that makes him more than worthy of it.
Sir Robert said he was both proud and humbled to receive a knighthood for services to people with disabilities.
“I couldn’t have got where I’ve got to without the assistance and also the support I’ve received over the many years from other people with learning disabilities.”
It was his concern for those around the world who still did not have a voice that drove him to be an advocate.
That drive took Sir Robert right to the United Nations, where in 2018, he became the first person with learning disabilities to chair a meeting during a session.
He served on the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for the 2017-2020 term, and was seeking re-election.
“In a lot of places around the world, people with learning disabilities are still much invisible…” he said.
“People with learning disabilities are part of our world, part of our communities and part of our societies.”
Sir Robert said he had been advocating for disabled New Zealanders for as long as he could remember, because there was never anyone else to do it. . .
Sir Robert wanted a leader that looked and sounded like him, and when there wasn’t one, he decided to fill the gap.
“That’s why I fought tooth and nail for the likes of People First, the only organisation in New Zealand that speaks for, and on behalf of people with learning disabilities.” . .
I had the pleasure of meeting Robert at an IHC conference more than 20 years ago. He was engaging and humble. He had already achieved a lot then and has done a lot more since.