And all around the world, the people smiled and danced and hugged.

That’s what today feels like for people with learning disability, and their supporters.


This morning we woke to the best news possible. Robert Martin, one of the founding members of the self advocacy movement for people with learning disability in New Zealand, and Life Member of People First New Zealand, has today been voted onto the next United Nations Committee responsible for monitoring the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, by 101 countries out of 160.  This vote makes Robert the very first person with a learning disability in history to have a seat on a UN Committee.

As Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson said today, Robert Martin hasn’t just smashed through a glass ceiling, “he’s smashed through the ceiling and walls of institutions that locked him away for most of his early years”.

Robert, who has worked tirelessly his whole life to challenge what others have said is possible for him and his friends, has been busy talking to media and taking messages of congratulations since his appointment was announced “I am very proud to have been elected to the Committee for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Thanks to everyone who has supported me in my campaign, Minister Wagner, former Minister Turia, the team from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Office for Disability Issues, the NZ Disabled Persons Organisations Coalition, David Rutherford and Paul Gibson from the NZ Human Rights Commission, Down Syndrome International, Peter Powell, Cindy Johns, and my friends at People First New Zealand.  It is a great day for people with learning disability around the world. I hope my participation on the Committee will set the pathway for others to follow in the future.”

With congratulations pouring in to People First New Zealand, members and staff are positively aglow. Hamish Taverner, National Chairperson of the organisation that is entirely governed by people with learning disability, has been a close friend of Robert’s for over 30 years. With emotion evident in his voice and a smile a mile wide, he says “He’s a great mate, I’m so happy for him and what he has achieved. This is for all our friends who have passed away. Time to show everyone in the world what people with learning disability can do”.

People First National Manager Cindy Johns is in New York assisting Robert, and commented “It’s been an amazing journey since Robert’s candidacy was announced 2 years ago. Today is historic. Robert is a great leader and role model, and will make sure the rights of people with learning disability will be bought to the Committee table. His presence will make the Committee more inclusive.”