I first saw Philip Patston at the Imperial Hotel during Mardi Gras in 2002. Patston had travelled from New Zealand to do comedy as part of the festival and his routine was the hit of the night. His material and his timing were razor sharp, delivered with a confidence and charm his co-stars sometimes lacked.

The most obvious difference however, was that Patston’s stand up was performed sitting down (they really should change that term). The comedian, columnist for New Zealand’s Express and managing director of his own company, has cerebral palsy and moves with the assistance of a wheelchair. His timing was absolutely razor sharp, if performed at a slower pace than his colleagues. It took the audience only a couple of minutes to get into the rhythm, and then the laughs came thick and hearty.

This time around Patston was wearing a more dour hat. He spoke at this week’s Diversity In Health conference.

Patston has a lot to say about the subject of health and diversity, on a personal level and as managing director of Diversity Works, a company providing consulting, training, motivational coaching and speaking services, graphic design, website management and award-winning comedy.

I think -˜diversity works’ is kind of my motto, he said. My life has been about making my diversity, in terms of who I am, and what I do, work.

Patston said he subscribes to the social model of disability; the idea that disability is not the individual’s impairment but the impact of society and the discrimination it carries.

The medical profession kind of -˜own’ the whole area of impairment and disability and they definitely try and make people less disabled and to -˜cure’ people and to change people, Patston said.

Disabled people are more and more gradually owning the idea that being disabled is a culture and an identity base that has a humour, a whole culture behind it, he said.

Patston is an active part of celebrating the culture, having just won a grant to travel around the world as creative director of Giant Leap, an international arts festival heading to Auckland in May 2004.

We’ve got all these -˜shoulds’, Patston said. Life -˜should’ be like this and people -˜should’ be like that in all sorts of situations. Until people actually move away from the -˜shoulds’ and say -˜Well this is how life is, this is how people are, this is how sexuality is’, then we’re not going to need to struggle to make things better.

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