In Gear | Rotary in Southern New Zealand In Gear - Issue 3 - Page 16

“There are 300 men, two working toilets, and they were all on the same drug … barely any staff, and faeces everywhere, all over the walls, all over the ground. They were lying, face down on the grass, naked, with sores all over their bodies. It was like a psychiatric horror movie,” Robbie recalls. “That was a real eye-opener, because a lot of them started out with physical disabilities, and, then, without stimulation, without support, without medication, they had developed developmental disabilities. “If I had been born in probably 70 percent of the world it would have been a totally different outcome for me, too. In developing countries, only one percent of women with disabilities are literate – 99 percent aren’t.” Newsbreaker At the end of her six-month internship, Robbie returned to New Zealand and something of a new career direction, but still staying true to the commitment she’d made to herself to shine a light on disability issues. She became a journalist and researcher for Attitude, TVNZ’s programme dedicated to telling empowering stories of people with disabilities. “And, then, when you become ‘different’, there are no facilities. They’re very poor, they end up on the street, and, when you’re on the street, you’re considered a misfit, and they want to clean up the streets. They literally go around “It was quite amazing to come to a job where the streets with my disability experience was valued, and, vans to pick up It was like a compared to someone who didn’t have a these people and psychiatric disability, I was actually more qualified,” Robbie put them in these horror movie.” says. facilities, and, then, once you’re Tackling gritty issues like foetal alcohol in there, you’re considered ‘crazy’, so you can never spectrum disorder, Robbie was one of the first justify getting out. researchers to dig in-depth into the now-high profile “Some of these people do have families and wish they could leave, and families wish they could get them out, but, then, the families don’t have the capacity or the knowledge or the education or the money to buy the medication. “I was there. I saw it. I smelt it. I felt it. And, if I had been born in a place where I had no opportunities or support, it could have been me. “A lot of them had had disabilities since birth and that’s why they were where they were now. I just thought: I was born in New Zealand, I went to a mainstream school … I now see it as my responsibility; I have to respond, or I have to forget about it, and I guess forgetting about it was never an option because you really can’t forget about the smell, particularly, and people trying to reach up and hold your hand, knowing that you could leave and they couldn’t. story of Ashley Peacock, who has autism. Attitude’s investigation sparked a blaze of publicity in the mainstream media as to why Ashley, who also has intellectual disabilities and mental illness, had spent several years in care, secluded in a tiny room, with living conditions the chief ombudsman went on to call “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”. It was recently announced, Ashley is due to be transitioned to community care this year. During her second year at Attitude, academia called again, and Robbie began her PhD through Otago’s National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, via distance learning – the focus of her doctorate, true to her discussion with Donna-Rose, the experiences of people with disabilities in conflict zones. “I decided to take an approach that looks at survival and resilience, rather than just documenting the Page 16 | In Gear - Rotary in southern New Zealand - District 9980 | www.rotarydistrict9980.org