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Becoming a Person

Robert Martin was left with brain damage due to birth trauma. In 2016, he will be the New Zealand Government’s nominee for the 2017 – 2020 term of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Placed into institutional care at the age of 18 months, he now lives a hugely full life as an advocate and activist for the rights of those with learning disabilities. Having suffered neglect, abuse and violence, he became a runaway. He stole books, and educated himself. He is now married to Lynda, and from small-city Whanganui travels to all parts of the globe pleading with politicians and bureaucrats for a better life for his learning-disabled friends. In 2003 he stood alone in a crowded hall to address the United Nations telling those assembled “My name is Robert Martin, and I have an intellectual disability”.

Robert was born into an era where the institutionalisation of children with intellectual disabilities was happening in New Zealand at a rate far faster than in the United States or United Kingdom. Presented to New Zealanders as a policy of care and protection, it was anything but. Times and attitudes have changed, and Robert has been an agent of that change.

His inspirational story has just been published in a biography which was launched in Whanganui on Thursday. Entitled Becoming a Person, it carries this by-line “How an intellectually disabled New Zealander helped change the world”. Amongst those who spoke at the book’s launch were Human Rights Commissioner for Disabilities Paul Gibson, and former Minister for Persons with Disabilities, Hon. Tariana Turia who accompanied Robert to the United Nations in New York in June.

Robert was invested as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008. He has a Paul Harris Fellowship from the Rotary Club of Wanganui Daybreak. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for his leadership in self-advocacy issues, and his contribution towards the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Robert Martin is a remarkable New Zealander.


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