Becoming A Person

(I felt compelled to write the review of Robert Martin’s biography. You know it’s worthwhile when even writing a review of it nearly brings you to tears. This is a book that as many people as possible need to know about and read.)

Becoming A Person;

The Biography of Robert Martin

How an intellectually disabled New Zealander helped change the world.

Written by John McRae.

This book is both an easy and a difficult read, in that it is easy to actually read, but it deals with dark realities of life in New Zealand institutions over many decades, which have been swept under the carpet in the past, which challenges the reader. It is an important book in that it throws open the doors of those remotely-located, cloistered communities where, for generations, parents of less-the-perfect children were told it was best to send those children, and to forget them and get on with their own lives.

Writer John McRae has known Robert Martin since 1995 and has done an excellent job of releasing from Robert, his harrowing tale of life “in care”. Never has the word “care” been less appropriately used than to describe the horrific existence of people shut away from society. He frequently quotes Robert verbatim, so that his voice comes through strongly. The book’s title “Becoming A Person” stems from Robert’s view that they weren’t treated as human beings with rights and choices, just as things to be abused and thrown away.

Institutionalised at 18 months old, Robert grew from a “difficult” child into an angry young man. If anyone has cause to be angry, it was him! The story of his adult years and of how he becomes an advocate, first locally and later globally, for people with intellectual disabilities (whom Robert refers to collectively as “my friends”) is an inspirational and powerful story. Robert is now better known, and it could be argued, more highly valued, internationally than he is in New Zealand.

I have had the privilege of getting to know Robert on the Ministry of Health’s DSS Consumer Consortium over the past four years. He speaks from the heart and is adept at identifying issues and saying what needs to happen. He is one of New Zealand’s treasures.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in the disability rights movement, and especially in the area of intellectual (now known as “learning”) disability. I hope it finds its way into libraries and as a training resource for people working in this field.

As Robert says “yes, I have an intellectual disability, but that doesn’t mean that my voice should not be heard. My story is the story of millions of people all over the world, who are denied humanity because they have an intellectual disability”.

Published by Craig Potton Publishing

Available online from $34.99, postage free within N.Z.

Allison Franklin