Be thankful for your benefits

Last updated 10:00 20/05/2014

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Do New Zealanders accept difference?

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Luck has everything to do with it.

I am writing as the sister of an intellectually and physically disabled woman. A written assignment like this will exclude more significantly disabled voices for obvious reasons. I'm choosing to remain anonymous as I have revealed a lot about her that is private.

My sister has physical and intellectual disabilities. She is a loving, kind, friendly, helpful, enthusiastic woman who lives with flatmates and full-time paid caregivers. She cannot read, talk clearly, understand consequences, run, work, or write about her experiences herself. I can't speak for her, but I can share some observations of her life and how New Zealanders view disability.

Of course there are a wide range of attitudes. Some people see the vulnerability of a woman who can't speak up and use this as an opportunity to abuse. My sister has been sexually and physically abused. The black eye spoke for her. Using the name of her abuser as her name for her sanitary pads spoke for her.

She's been teased, humiliated, and stared at. She has missed out on having children, a job, an adult life with responsibilities. And she knows it. Every single time we are together she switches places with me and insists everyone calls her by my name.

I just checked the statistics and 90 per cent of developmentally disabled people will experience sexual abuse in their lifetime so sadly, she's not alone.

There are also wonderful people. Her caregivers at her flat, the staff at the daybase she attends, the school teachers when she was younger. The lovely strangers (always Pacific Islanders) who would give us a lift when she had decided she wouldn't walk any further and was having a tantrum on the roadside.

There are lovely people who take her and her friends on holidays for very reasonable rates. Yes, they have even been to the Gold Coast once. Quick, call Paula Bennett, the beneficiaries went to the Gold Coast that one time.

That meanness is the thing that upsets me. Not only does my sister have all the disadvantages of being disabled, there are people that begrudge the small enjoyments in her life because they are taxpayer funded. The "luck has nothing to do with it" attitude has the flip-side of meaning that she deserves the life she has.

I get told by beneficiary bashers, "Oh we don't mean people who are in genuine need, like her", but how sure are they of the personal stories of each and every beneficiary?

I'd ask that people thank their lucky stars each day for the benefits they have through no hard work of their own. Their attractiveness, intelligence, health, lack of disability, gender, race, and parents are down to luck and these things have as much effect on your success in life as the things you do have control over.

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Finally, if you see a disabled person who looks a bit different, don't stare, and if you can't help but stare, be prepared for a big friendly hello.

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