Power and privilege in our own backyard

Nikki Frittmann has Spina Bifida and lives in Auckland with her husband and two cats.  Every second month she shares her musings with DPSN.

The election is over and, after 9 years, New Zealand has a different government. As with any election, hopes are high for some that this will mean better lives for the more marginalized in New Zealand society, while others are concerned about how much that better life for others will cost them to contribute to in taxes.

For one young man called Sagar Narayan and his family, the new government means that he will have his case with immigration looked at again. Mr Narayan was due to be deported from New Zealand to his native Fiji because he has an intellectual disability, and his future care was previously deemed to cost the health system in this country too much.

But Mr Narayan has no relatives in Fiji now.  He was left behind with grandparents in Fiji, after having originally been turned down for New Zealand residency and his grandparents have since died.  He has been living here, with family, on temporary visas ever since.

Thankfully, there has recently been a change of heart at immigration and his case is due to be looked at again. I am grateful that this member of my family of people who experience disabilities may at last get some justice.

Are New Zealanders with disabilities privileged? Yes, compared to those who live in some other countries. Mr. Narayan’s situation reminded me of a conversation I had with a Fijian pastor once. He asked me where I stayed, and was very surprised when I replied I lived in my own home, drove my own car, and had my own job. He had a different experience of people with disabilities in his own country, who were usually living in care, with employment being a rare advantage.

Privilege depends on how you look at it. In the run-up to the election, I saw many people online express the hope that poverty in New Zealand would be a thing of the past with the election of a different government.  Personally I believe the answers to poverty are complicated, and solving the problem is no easy task. Many others laughed at the idea that there is such a thing as poverty in New Zealand. “We’re not as badly off as [xyz country]” was a common comment. But we don’t live in xyz, and that is why the reality of New Zealanders living in cars or on the street is every bit as much of a problem as people living in a cardboard box elsewhere.

“I’ve always said there’s always someone worse off than me, and now I’ve met them”, a lady at the shops said to me the other day. She wasn’t being rude, in fact, she was a very nice lady, who meant well in what she said. As it turns out, she has a friend with the same condition, which affects them in different ways from how my disability affects me. I usually reply to this kind of comment by saying everyone has their troubles in life, and I’m sure the other person’s problems bother them at least as much as my disability affects me.  Probably even more so, as I am used to dealing with the effects of Spina Bifida, since I’ve done it from birth, whereas another person’s problems might be new to them and perhaps harder to deal with.

Sure, older age might make doing things physically a little bit harder these days than it did when I was younger, but that happens to everyone eventually. The process is a little bit exaggerated for me compared to someone who doesn’t have my type of disability, but it’s still the same process that happens to everyone. No big deal.

But people I talk to sometimes, including this woman, never seem to believe that. No matter how hard I try, they always seem to believe that the experience of living with a disability puts all their problems in the shade. I’m glad if I can encourage them. But I still don’t believe, in my own case anyway, that I’m really worse off than them.

It’s an interesting saying though, that “there’s always someone worse off than me”. I guess somewhere, someone must logically be so badly off, they can’t say that. I wonder if I’ll ever meet them?


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