Kiwi Robert Martin MNZM becomes first person with intellectual disability to chair UN session

Kiwi Robert Martin MNZM became the first person with an intellectual disability to chair a United Nations session on Wednesday.

Mr Martin, currently serving a three-year term as an independent expert on the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, says the occasion in Geneva was empowering - but he was initially uncertain.

"I was a bit apprehensive when the secretary of the committee asked me to chair. But I had great assistance from the secretariat and my own assistant, and they assisted me to know what was expected of me. And I've actually been studying what the other chairs do and say, and learning from their great example."

Mr Martin continued: "The other members of the committee were all supportive for me to have a go. To me, I think this is what the Convention [on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] is about. People with disabilities, including people with intellectual disability, having a say and showing the world that yes, we can do this."

Mr Martin chaired three sessions over the course of the week, as the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities concluded a four-week block of sessions in Geneva.

The committee has been reviewing the progress of seven countries towards implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

"It is precisely because persons with intellectual disability have not been consulted about their treatment that we continue to see mass institutionalisation and abuse occurring for this group around the world," said Alexia Black, communications manager for disabled people's organisation People First New Zealand and assistant to Mr Martin.

"Perhaps if we listen to people with intellectual disability more, we will be able to make the human rights progress we are always talking about."

Mr Martin, a disability rights activist from Whanganui, spent the first 27 years of his life in New Zealand living in institutions. Last year, he became the first person with intellectual disability to be elected onto a UN committee.

Mr Martin will be travelling to Spain next week to meet with the Congress of Deputies in the Spanish parliament on Monday, and attend a conference on intellectual disability as the main keynote speaker on Tuesday.