An Albert Town businessman told the Wanaka Sun he is quite 'chuffed' at his recognition in the Queen's Birthday 2019 Honours for his services to people with intellectual disabilities (ID). Donald Thompson received a New Zealand Order of Merit.
IHC, New Zealand’s largest provider of services to people with ID and their families, nominated Thompson for this award. Thompson is one of 13 IHC Life Members, and he served at every voluntary level of the organisation;
“I started off [at IHC] because my daughter had special needs," said Thompson. "When she was two years old, about 35 years ago, I joined the IHC committee of North Otago. I became their president for 12 years, then joined the national board and became president of their board for 12 years. It was all voluntary work, all in governance and management."
Through his daughter, who now lives in an IHC home in Oamaru, Thompson saw some of the challenges that people with ID must overcome. "They just require support to live their everyday lives," he said. "It depends on their level of disability. Some need a little support while others need 100 percent support, and that’s one of the challenges of providing support across the country."
Thompson has been recognised for numerous submissions to Parliament on behalf of IHC members and for taking legal action against the Ministry of Education in 2008 over its failure to ensure inclusive education for all children. "Unfortunately better services rely on more funding from central government," he said. "The disability sector is generally underfunded and this does affect the services they are able to provide."
Thompson is no longer involved with IHC, but he is on the board of an IHC arm called Accessible Properties (AP), which has proved to be a highlight of his service work. "AP is social [and disability] housing. IHC owns houses in their own right, and AP also owns social housing and recently bought the state housing portfolio in Tauranga, 1100 houses from the government, so it’s the largest social housing in New Zealand after the government’s state housing.”
He said that some of the small decisions he and his colleagues made around a board table had a profound impact on people with ID, yet there was much that he gained personally through his work as well. "When you work with and for people with an intellectual disability, you soon realise what is really important in life [and it's] not worthwhile sweating the small stuff."
He told the Wanaka Sun that having a daughter with special needs had a huge impact on his life. "Karen has needs that require 100 percent support, so, as a family, we chose to share her care earlier on when IHC was the only organisation available to provide support that we needed as a family. It changes your whole world as a family when you have a child with intellectual needs. She’s the youngest, but our two older boys still needed to live. One of us had to be with Karen at all times and IHC helped share the care; she spent a few nights a week with another family in order to go to school in a special class in Oamaru. We lived in the country at that stage, so the local school wasn’t really an option."
Thompson, who farmed in north Otago most of his life, moved to the Wanaka area 17 years ago after buying Wanaka Glass and Collision Centre. One of his sons currently runs the shop with Thompson, now semi-retired, working for him part time.
Thompson said the next step for him will be backwards in direction as he moves closer towards retirement.