Hand rails into the ocean : contrasting human rights disability policy and real-lived experiences in the Cook Islands : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Development Studies at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Globally, the Convention of Rights for Persons with Disability (CRPD) is coming into force, with over 100 countries ratifying to date. Moreover, policy-makers and practitioners in the disability field are increasingly looking to evidence-based strategies to assess and maximise the sometimes limited resources that Governments, NGOs and people with disabilities have. Of vital importance is that this assessment is undertaken alongside people with disabilities and any priority needs are understood within the local, cultural context. That said, the Cook Islands ratified the CRPD in May 2009, after strong lobbying from several local disability groups. However, the CRPD has not necessarily come into play in the real-life experiences for people with disabilities in the Cook Islands. There appears to be a lack of awareness surrounding not only the lived-experience of people with disability, but what the priority needs may be. This was recently highlighted also by disability groups in the Cook Islands being undecided on a priority project when a funding application was offered by the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF). With this in mind the aim of this research was to explore alongside people with disabilities their attitudes around disability, barriers to development and prioritised needs though application of an emancipatory methodological approach. The main method of data collection was through story-telling which not only fits with Cook Island tradition and allowed for a rich dialogue, but sought to ensure that the voices of those living with a disability were heard and documented. Findings reveal a weak human rights perception around disability, largely due to a lack of self-belief by the people with disabilities. It was also found that even though good human-rights disability policy is in place, the two most prioritised needs; a lack of assistive aids and education on disability awareness hampered the personal development of people with disabilities. Hence, a new rights-based and capabilities approach assessment tool and action plan has been designed to further identify gaps and subsequently, future funding for this area is now in the application process with the PDF. 
People with disabilities, Cook Islands, Convention of Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Human rights for disabled, Pacific Disability Forum, Attitudes towards disability, Disability policy