Face of the day


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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  • steve and monique

    Here is a fellow we all should be proud of.

  • Dumrse

    We need to see a lot more posts like this and less about feral brats. The ratio is arse about face and we need to see change.

  • LesleyNZ

    A wonderful story and a wonderful man.

  • intelligentes candida diva

    My tear ducts have had a great work out this week with several amazing and beautiful stories of FOTDs today is no exception.

    I am always saddened to hear of the mistreatment of vulnerable people

    Having a vested interest in the care of those with disabilities, I am in awe of this mans fortitude to overcome and his tenacity.
    While he may have a disability in one area he certainly has impressive skills in other areas.

  • nervus

    Robert is like a kauri tree, he is a giant in the forest of life.

  • Damon Mudgway

    Some of SB’s FOTD posts having me genuinely reviewing my opinion of myself as a grump and acknowledging there is a TON of positivity in the world…a lot in our own backyard. These posts make me happy. I love reading about others who make such valuable contributions to society, this post being one of them.

    Unfortunately my love of politics brings inherently negative connotations, so thanks SB for balancing it out:-)

  • I know Robert personally. He is the quintessential Kiwi bloke who loves a beer (or more than one), plays Golden Oldies rugby for Wanganui Bohemians, has an encylcopaedic knowledge of a whole range of sports, and an excellent general knowledge. He always greets you with a cheeky grin.

    But behind the grin there is a pretty grim story. The way we treated our intellectually disabled in the past is not something to be proud of, and Robert’s book pulls no punches. He has chosen however not to be a victim of his past, but to give others with disabilities hope for the future. It is great that his story has been told.