Dealing with a disability
BEING blind is no obstacle for Latoa Halatau.
‘‘If you lose your sight, you can spend your time trying to get over the grief,’’ he says. ‘‘But the sooner you accept it and move on, the sooner you will be able to get on with life and be part of the community.’’
Over his career Halatau has advocated strongly for the rights of blind people and assisted many to live more independent lives.
His efforts were formally recognised on June 1 when he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday 2015 New Zealand Royal Honours List.
‘‘I’m very honoured and privileged,’’ he says.
‘‘Not just for me but for all those who’ve helped me to do what I do, particularly my wife Tewai Halatau and mother-in-law Patricia Olga Skipwith.’’
Halatau, who lives in Mt Eden, was 15 when he collided with another player during a rugby game.
He suffered a detached retina, after which his sight became progressively worse.
Previously he’d lost sight in his other eye in an accident while growing up in Niue.
Halatau’s vision is defined as legally blind.
‘‘I can see outlines and colours but no details. It’s enough to get me around without using a cane in familiar areas.’’
The keen sportsman went on to represent New Zealand at the 1980 Paralympic Games in long jump, 100 metre sprint, shot put and javelin.
Halatau started working as a welfare officer for the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind in 1981 and went on to become a social worker for the organisation.
He provided support to blind Pacific Islanders, as well as Maori and ethnic minorities living in the central suburbs.
‘‘They tended to have high needs due to not knowing what their rights and entitlements were or how to access support,’’ he says.
‘‘I helped them find basic housing, gain access to things like adequate heating and get assistance by way of budgeting services.
In 2002 he left the foundation to commit himself to Vision Pacific, a not-forprofit organisation he’d started a few years earlier with his wife.
‘‘We train individuals to be change agents or role models. They in turn help others in a peer support way,’’ he says.
Halatau is also a member of various organisations that assist disabled people, both here and in the Pacific.
This includes being the cochair of the national Enabling Good Lives Leadership Group and the Pacific Disability Forum.
Latoa Halatau is one of 188 people included in the Queen’s Birthday 2015 New Zealand Royal Honours List