Deal­ing with a dis­abil­ity

Central Leader - - NEWS - By KA­RINA ABADIA

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

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