I arrived in Wellington after a 30 hour flight.
I first became interested in New Zealand’s special education system while working on my master’s thesis. The focus of my thesis was on parental engagement in transition planning. While doing research, New Zealand’s culturally responsive model of special education came up often. New Zealand is a global leader on including parents in the special education process. Engaging with parents, whanau, and communities is a priority in New Zealand’s schools and their ministry of education has committees that strictly committed to that. The Intellectually Handicapped Children’s Parents Association was founded in 1949 by Hal and Margaret Anyon, Wellington parents of a son with Down Syndrome, who wanted him to have an education, employment and a home in the community. The United States did not start deinstitutionalisation until the mid 1970s. Prior to the mid- 1970s, people with disabilities in the US were often forced to live in institutions outside of hundreds of miles away from their families and communities where they received no education. They were often removed from their families at birth or sent there later by a physician and taken to asylums which were notorious for poor living conditions, lack of hygiene, overcrowding, ill-treatment, and rampant abuse: many patients starved to death. The United State’s treatment of individuals with disabilities is a national shame that is still present. Fortunately, there have been wonderful activists with disabilities (two noteworthy examples are The Capitol Crawl and the 25-day sit-in for section 504) that have paved the way for legislation that promotes and requires equal treatment for individuals with disabilities in the United States. So often the disabilities rights activists are left out of discussion surrounding the Civil Rights Movement, and even today individuals with disabilities are often left out of the narratives of social movements, despite playing an active role in them.
Given the United State’s history and current treatment of individuals with disabilities, this experience is very powerful for me. I am able to observe one of the leading educational systems in the world, particularly in the area of special education. I am particularly interested in how New Zealand’s push for inclusion early on impacts student’s post-secondary success and community engagement today. I do not start the actual research component for another week or two, so I have spent the last few days wandering around and getting to know the city. I have already noticed that most of the public buildings and spaces are accessible. I visited Wellington’s Botanic Garden yesterday for their Garden’s Magic. Every night, for two weeks in the summer, they have a free concert in the garden. We were told to arrive early to explore the gardens and reserve a space. We arrived at six and wandered around. The signs in the garden were in English and Braille. Each path was wheelchair accessible. Its so encouraging to see that level of inclusivity and accessibility.
My roommate, Amanda, who is another Fulbright Scholar, and I brought a picnic to the gardens and enjoyed. There were hundreds of families and friends gathered and everyone brought a picnic with them. And amazingly, almost no one was on their phone.
My apartment is located in Aro Valley, a neighborhood about a 20 minute walk from downtown. It is a great neighborhood; it has two awesome coffee shops, The Garage Project Brewery, a local park, a community centre that offers yoga and exercise classes, a beautiful nature preserve, one of best bakeries in Wellington (I am really into cake, so this is exciting), and a video rental store.
The photo above is a picture of the cottage I will be staying while I am here. The cottage has several books in it (Confederacy of Dunces and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat are both here), which is always a good sign. The view out the living room window is incredible.
Above is the video store. Below is a picture of the Aro Valley Park and the nature preserve. On Friday and Saturday, Aro Park hosted Star Trek in the Park. Some cities have Shakespeare in the Park, Wellington has Star Trek in the Park and I couldn’t be happier about that. There was a Khan screaming contest, and a Doo-wop group that sung songs about Captain Kirk, and Klingons running amok throughout the park.
The weather has been warm and sunny since arriving. Its in the mid 70s to low 80s with quite a bit of humidity. It has been record breaking heat for New Zealanders and there is actually a nationwide fan shortage. The Kiwis are referring to it as “Fandemonium” and the entire island is not expected to get another shipment of fans until March. The temperatures are not too bad, but there is no central air in New Zealand, so its hard to escape the humidity.
I love Wellington and have really enjoyed walking around and exploring the last few days. This week I am going a hike just outside of the city, meeting with my university adviser, opening my bank account, and spending some time reading and researching for my project. Orientation is on Thursday and Friday, and after that I will be able to officially begin my project. I have been enjoying my downtime and getting to know the city, but I am eager to delve into my project.
*Disclaimer: This is a personal website. All views and information presented herein are my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.