What follows is a piece I wrote for Stuff.co.nz about being disabled in New Zealand.
I’m a writer, director, sometimes actor.
I did a play last year called ‘Defensability’ – it was a comedy about being disabled. I made a comedy because a lot of the things that happen to me are funny.
To answer the question “Do New Zealanders accept difference?” it’s hard to know where to start.
Overall, my answer would be yes, generally people are pretty good in this country.
There are prejudices but they are relatively minor.
I often have people who approach me and they tell me they find me inspiring or they want to talk to me about what happened to my legs (I was born with it).
In terms of the big things that have happened to me, I can list them for you.
1. I have had my mobility-parking card stolen.
2. I have had to stand on a bus for 20 minutes (don’t assume someone else will stand). I often get yelled at by senior citizens on the bus because they don’t realise I’m disabled and I’m sitting in their seat.
3. I have had nine people try to faith heal me in one year.
4. I have been acting for more than twenty years without an agent. I was told by one agent that my disability was really off-putting.
5. People are sometimes amazed I have a job.
6. I’ve been refused access to nightclubs because “We don’t have facilities for people like you.” All my able bodied friends were drunk and still got in.
7. I have people talk down to me all the time. They often call me chief, champ, buddy, tiger. I once had a boom op say to me “Hey buddy, hanging out on set today?” The look on his face when he saw I was the director was awesome!
Some of you will be thinking ‘I would never do any of that’. But people do, it’s their way of coping I guess.
When I tell my friends about it, they’ll sometimes get offended but you have to remember that not everyone has met a disabled person and they don’t know how to react.
I once had a random stranger who saw me struggling up some stairs. He picked me up and carried me up the stairs, he never said anything just put me down and walked off.
Being disabled is fine. New Zealanders in general are polite, helpful, and a little shy.
There’s nothing wrong with asking questions.
I often have kids just come up and ask me. By the way if you have a little one, when they see me they’re going to say “What’s wrong with that man’s legs?” or a variation on that.
Don’t be embarrassed, they’re not the first and I’m happy to answer. Their biggest concern is does it hurt? No, it doesn’t.
I hope what I’ve written here is helpful to people. New Zealand, as I’ve experienced it, is largely positive about things and most people seem keen to help if they can.