Friday, November 14, 2008

Open Spaces in New Zealand

Today, the main thrust of the CCS Disability Action conference agenda was to do Open Space meetings, which are a kind of workshop setting where participants themselves suggest and host informal conversations on different topics, which are assigned different times and spots in the conference area. This was pretty cool as anyone at all could suggest something and interested people just congregate at the place and time. I thought it was a really good way to break down paternalism. In the end over 30 conversations were held today alone, with more scheduled for tomorrow (though unfortunately I will be in the process of flying to San Francisco).

I did have two interpreters today, the one from yesterday and a different one who was much less familiar with ASL---but both were really good sports about it all and it was fun to exchange ASL and NZSL signs. Thanks to Alan and Bridget and to Carol for finding them!

After doing some frantic morning shopping for NZ stuff to take home, I participated in...

....a discussion about developing Maori disability leadership
...a discussion about women's disability rights in New Zealand (the US and NZ share many concerns but primarily women need to think more critically and be more proactive about women's disability rights....some good ideas were bandied about for keeping women with disabilities informed about work that connects them)
...a discussion about disability rights in different countries

All of these talks were pretty fabulous in that I learned things at each one, though perhaps from a different perspective as an American disability rights activist and as a deaf person. I had the impression that CCS Disability Action folks are very much finding their way in a country where PC-ness is valued and people are very nice. We had a lot of Maori inclusion though a few culture clashes, I believe, but how else do we learn but through our mistakes? Some examples of Maori cultural inclusion include braiding in the use of Maori prayers and songs, and ensuring circular gatherings to talk (I think). I think the opportunity to speak to anyone you wished was well presented and I very much appreciated the chance to get to know different folks in NZ. Of course I wish I could have stayed more than two days, but now NZ is on my list of places to visit (again and for a longer time!).

I did eat kumara which is a sort of sweet potato that was originally more used in Maori culture I think. Lunch included for example fried fish and kumara. Pretty good stuff!

Speaking of food, we wound up the day with a big dinner and dancing. I met some very fabulous people and together we witnessed a very interesting sort of eggplant roll and baked curly potato things.

This entry is to be a bit short because I have to wake up in about four hours to leave for the airport, but as I process my thoughts over the next few weeks and begin blogging more reflectively, I will be carrying the lessons learned here in New Zealand. I learned that an important Maori concept is the idea of koru, which is both a visual symbol and the idea of the force that unfurls new fern leaves. So I will let my mind percolate and see if I can have some koru of thoughts on furthering disability rights! Also, I liked that in our welcoming ceremony yesterday we connected not only people past and present in our meeting space, but we also connected with the stars.

And now to bed, and then to San Francisco....


Wendi said...

I think your visit to Aotearoa may have been a tad short to tell you much about disabled peoples' organisations in NZ. There's more to it than just the issues that face a (relatively big) service provider organisation. "Of disabled people" versus "for disabled people" organisations are very alive and kicking. We'll look forward to seeing you back so that you can fish from the ocean rather than the rockpool, and so know us better. The exchange will be our gain too

aa said...


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