Birds of a Feather


“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted by the past. The traditions of all the dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the living”.

Karl Marx (1979)



I carry the weight of a dark and cruel history on my bony little shoulders.

Every day, I fight a small battle in some shape or form. Sometimes it’s because somebody has skipped ahead of me in the queue in the shop. Sometimes it’s a waitress asking my husband what I would like for dinner. Sometimes it’s the need to feel that people take you seriously as an activist.

It’s all too easy to forget that I’m not the only one who’s perceived as different, that I’m not the only one fighting for equality in a society that indirectly labels me as inconvenient. If you think I’m being dramatic, just look at the recent coverage of Johanne Powell’s story (Johanne Powell is a mother and carer to her severely impaired daughter, Siobhan). I’m not disputing Johanne’s right to her story, but surely Siobhan, and so many in her position, should be given the chance to somehow tell their story too?

Every time I hear a story, be it about a wheelchair user who couldn’t board a train, or a person living in an institution simply because their home isn’t adapted, I feel an inexplicable anger, and also a sense of being victimised. I always think to myself: what if that had been me? It’s only luck that it isn’t me. And what can I do about it?

I often think about my upbringing and how often my parents used the word ‘fight’, ‘It was a long fight but Sarah made it into primary school.’ ‘It was a fight but we got Sarah botox treatment’ (for my legs, not my face – this is all natural). For many parents, and subsequently children, everything is a fight in a world where cutbacks are the norm. Sadly, parents still have to fight to have their disabled (by society) children accepted into mainstream school. Fight for the supports their children need to excel. And I ask myself – what exactly has changed in fifty years?

Sure, some things are improving – for example, Tullamore is becoming more accessible, students with disabilities are now going onto third level education and employment, sometimes setting up their own businesses, having families of their own and so on. But none of this falls into our laps. It is hard work having to constantly prove yourself in a society that expects little of you. And, *apols for harping on about this,* the fact that the United Nations Convention of People with Disabilities has not yet been ratified nearly ten years after it was signed is a clear indication of how (un)seriously our government views the needs of people with disabilities.

As far as I can see, we have internalised our history – please correct me if I’m wrong, but –

  • The word ‘handicap’ derived from the term ‘hand in cap’ is deemed offensive now, but is technically still correct as every year thousands of people with disabilities live in fear of losing their Personal Assistants, losing benefits and medical cards. As long as I worked in the disability sector, the Disability Federation of Ireland and the Centre for Independent Living made pre-budget submissions (elaborate begging letters) outlining the damage further cuts would cause. Obviously government didn’t care;
  • Despite one damning HIQA report after another, residential homes are still alive and well. Minister Mc Grath reckons that they will all be closed by 2020, but according to a HSE report published in 2011, more people are entering residential home than leaving them;
  • I’m a young’un, but I could safely bet that many disability activists were campaigning and protesting for the exact same reasons twenty years ago as we are now;
  • Disability/impairment is still viewed as one of the worst things to happen to you (cheers for that, Me Before You). it’s a tragedy that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, and wouldn’t it be great if there was a cure, and have you heard of these robotic legs blah blah blah. It seems that cures are more favourable than respect, understanding and acceptance. What does that say about us?

I know that I am the sole author of this blog, but I’m not sure I’d have the confidence to blog at all were it not for the support of all my readers, especially those who have experienced discrimination as I have. So the next time you are raising a grievance, be it because you were excluded from a building or public transport, or because some prat doesn’t think you should be a parent, or because you’re being blocked from getting your dream job, you have a responsibility to keep fighting.

But don’t worry.

You are not alone.

You have all of us behind you.


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