Cripping Up: Useful Exercise, or a load of Crap?

Earlier today my daughter, who is growing increasingly aware that her mummy is different to other mummies, asked me if I could walk properly when I was a little girl. ‘Nope,’ I told her, ‘My walking was pretty rubbish when I was a child too, but I didn’t need a wheelchair.’ She was silent for a second, then she said, a tint of sadness coming into her otherwise unblemished face:

‘Some of the girls in my class make fun of you. They say “ha ha, your mummy can’t walk properly.”‘ For a second, my heart stopped. This is the conversation I’d dreaded having with my daughter since the day she was born.

As nonchalantly as possible, I prodded. ‘And what did you say?’

Alison shrugged. ‘I said “don’t make fun of my mummy, it hurts her feelings” but they didn’t stop. I didn’t like it mummy. I would never do that to anyone.’ She was so absolute in her defence of my that it made me want to cry. ‘Mummy,’ she continued. ‘You know I don’t care if you can’t walk properly, or you’re in a wheelchair. I love you and you’re the best mummy.’ I sat, reeling. Where the hell had all this come out of, all of a sudden?

‘School,’ my friend said when I told her the story. ‘Kids learn all sorts from each other at school. They learn to see things differently, to question things, and most worryingly of all, they trust what each other says.’ This isn’t my first encounter with schoolkids of course; once upon a time, in the very same school in fact, I had the honour of dealing with this sort of thing first hand. And while some of the comments hurt (and they did, because I was an impressionable child, just as Ali is now), others were downright hilarious. One particular time I caused grievous injury to a classmate who was enjoying imitating my walking and consequently whacked herself off a door. ‘I never do that,‘ I laughed. And bingo, humour became my new method of self-defence. To be fair, it’s lasted pretty well.

But what has always interested me, even from my prepubescent years, is how people tend to be so fixated on my impairment and how they see it as problematic. ‘Do you ever wish you didn’t have Cerebral Palsy?’ is a question I’ve been asked more times than I’ve had hot dinners. My answer has always been the same, but it’s only in recent years that I understand why I’ve always said no. Cerebral Palsy, and any other disability for that matter, only becomes problematic when others are uncomfortable with it. Impairment and disability are different things. Impairment is a condition or diagnosis, and disability is the collective term for physical and attitudinal barriers facing people in society. I’ve lost you now, haven’t I? Allow me to explain.

My impairment wasn’t the reason why gaining entry to mainstream school was a battle, but the lack of supports available was.

My impairment didn’t stop me reaching third level education because I was enabled through Assistive Technology and Personal Assistance to do so. I used these as tools to unlock my potential.

I built a ramp on both sides of my home so  that I could consequently get a wheelchair to enable me to be independent and get out of the house. A lack of ramps would hamper my freedom, not my impairment.

My heart always sinks whenever I hear the words ‘disability awareness training’ because it often involves so-called ‘able-bodied’ people ‘cripping up’ to try and get a feel for what the world is like for a wheelchair user. With all due respect to those  of you who think this is a good idea, it’s not. Often, it involves able-bodied people using oversized or unsuitable wheelchairs and trying to navigate a physical environment. It’s an unrealistic portrayal because wheelchairs for full-time wheelchair users are designed for their specific needs. While doing something like this, you get a flavour of what it’s like to use a wheelchair to get around and the physical challenges involved. However, you cannot possibly be expected to know what it’s like to carry the burden of a history of hundreds of years of neglect, discrimination and degradation.

It creates awareness, as Kathryn Thomas did on The Late Late Show on Friday 7 April. Everyone knows her face. She was selected to create awareness of the barriers facing wheelchair users in Dublin. It got a great response from many people, saying that it was great to see this issue being highlighted at last. The reality is that people with disabilities have been saying these things for years. And yet, many wheelchair users, including Louise Bruton, who reviews access in Dublin for her blog, Legless in Dublin, was not asked to participate. She wrote an article for the Irish Times before the Late Late aired in which she said: ‘These pieces are a gimmick and if they help change the minds of a few people, then that is great, but they remove us from the discussion. By doing this, we are passing the baton and the opportunity to go deep into the experiences of a wheelchair user is missed.’

Blogger John Doyle was more direct in his criticism of this approach, saying in his blog: ‘Would your celebs paint themselves black and claim the understand racism? No they would not. Did John F Kennedy mimic being a different ethnicity to highlight racism? No he did not. He acted with legislation because he lived in a country that had one rule equality for one section and a rule of inequality for others’. We still haven’t ratified the United Nations Convention of Rights for People with Disabilities, which would mean so much more than a celebrity endorsement.

And why do we need celebrities to highlight the issues that we disabled  people have been discussing for years? The answer is simply we don’t – but for some reason our voices seem to only matter when they’re endorsed by politicians, celebrities and the likes. I wonder is this because people don’t want to know about the nitty-gritty of the discrimination disabled people face, or is it because they feel they can relate to an able-bodied person better? If that’s the case, will our voices, our own voices, ever be heard?

Because I don’t want my daughter answering questions about her ‘different’ mummy forever. I hope that one day she will be wise enough to say ‘You have a question about my mummy? You ask her yourself. I don’t speak on behalf of her, or anyone else.’

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Wheel Independence

 

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My poor, sad, neglected wheelchair (sad face)

 

 

I have really missed blogging here for the last two weeks (I’m back, yay), but to be honest, I just needed a break. I felt wiped, depleted and I know from hard  experience that when I feel like this it’s better to take a breather rather than having a meltdown and sobbing in my jammies at the side of the canal at 4.30am (ahem, apparently). I have been busy though with activism, and I got my submission in to Date With An Agent (I hope – I never enclosed an SAE to acknowledge my entry but I know my  future award winning novel will totally be selected), so that could account for why I’m that little bit more tired.

Or maybe it’s because for the last month and a half, I’ve been without my electric wheelchair, and the extra physical effort of walking everywhere is taking its toll. And thank God it is finally getting fixed tomorrow, because I am wiped.

My dear mother, who spent the first five years of my life doing physio with me every morning, was dead set against me using a wheelchair. We lived in a two-storey house when most of my disabled friends lived in bungalows. She wasn’t too keen on me having a wheelchair in college, although she understood the reasoning behind it. Growing up in a mainstream world led me to believe that one’s value was largely based on their physical ability to do things and to get around.

When I had Alison, my friend advised me that I wouldn’t want to miss out on doing things with my daughter, and so I got myself an electric wheelchair. Being ambulant I don’t think I’d have any chance getting one off the HSE. And for the first time since becoming a mother, I wasn’t housebound. I could take Alison for walks whenever I wanted, long walks and still have the energy to come home and do some housewifey things, and write my masterpiece. This is why the phrase ‘confined to a wheelchair’ annoys me so much. A wheelchair doesn’t confine, it liberates! Without it, I feel confined, trapped within the limitations of my body.

I firmly believe that when we are given access to tools like wheelchairs, technological aids and Personal Assistance, we are enabled to become the best us we can be. There is great strength in acknowledging that your physical impairments are not the problem, that society needs to address the needs of people with disabilities and be more inclusive. Above all, I believe that people with disabilities need to drive this change themselves.

It came to my attention over the weekend that student Kathleen McNamee, senior editor of the University Times, ‘cripped up’ or explored Trinity College campus in a wheelchair. What’s wrong with this, you might ask. Isn’t it great that people without impairments are trying to see the world through the eyes of a wheelchair user? Well firstly, Kathleen is not a wheelchair user; at the end of her article she wrote: ‘While I will be happy to hand my chair back tomorrow morning, I am also aware that not everyone is afforded this opportunity’. To me this implies that she sees the ‘problem’ as the wheelchair,  not the inaccessible environment. Also, why did she have to ‘crip up’? Why didn’t she look for the experiences of full-time wheelchair users who navigate the campus on a daily basis?

Secondly, I felt that the article was a little unfair on Trinity. When I carried out an access audit in 2004, we identified all of the problem areas and efforts have been made to fix things: the pathway through Front Square, there’s now a lift up to the Pav (the on-campus watering hole) and ramps to the buildings in Front Square. Things are far from perfect, but they’re improving.

Irish Rail, however, seems to be getting worse. A friend of mine told me recently that on principle she refuses to give any train station 24 hours’ notice of her intention to travel because she sees herself as equal. Today I had to travel by train (I had no wheelchair, just my rollator) and didn’t give notice, so I had no reason to be disgusted when assistance didn’t appear in Tullamore (even though I rang an hour beforehand), leaving me no choice but to fling my rollator and myself off the train. Had I been in my wheelchair I’d probably be writing this from Galway!

So to summarise, I’m looking forward to my wheelchair being repaired in the morning and to getting my independence and energy levels back. My normal life back. I know I should make more of an effort to get fit, and some might think I shouldn’t be so lazy. Feck that. My daughter needs a mummy who has the energy to do things and go places with her, and I need the energy to write, and that’s exactly what my wheelchair offers. It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you do!

Just Catching a Train (in 24 hours)

I’ve a meeting in Dublin on Wednesday. It’s straightforward  getting there: if you’re going the public transport route, you simply get a train to Dublin, then regardless of whether you come into Heuston or Connolly Station, you can catch the Red Luas to Smithfield and then it’s a ten minute walk. Easy peasy. Shouldn’t be complicated at all, right?

No, it shouldn’t. But this is Ireland, and we seem to have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be. And for people with mobility difficulties, public transport isn’t as convenient as it is for others.

I went down to Tullamore Train Station this morning (according to the Irish Rail website, passengers needing assistance are ‘advised’ to give twenty-four hours’ notice) to let them know that I intend to travel on the 09.29 from Tullamore to Heuston on Wednesday morning. I admit I did it as a bit of joke, to make a point. The guy who works there is lovely – I’ve nothing against him as a person – but he was reluctant to guarantee that I’d have assistance on Wednesday afternoon coming home. ‘If I’m here, I will definitely help you,’ was his response. If.

The assistance I, and many other wheelchair users need, is simply the provision of a portable ramp to enable me to disembark from the train safely. That’s all. In my case my chair is electric so there’s no manual pushing involved. But without the provision of a ramp, my independence is immediately compromised.

Okay, I admit that giving two days’ notice is a tad dramatic. But my attitude isn’t without basis. Just last month, a young  wheelchair user got stranded on Platform 2 of Tullamore Train station and had to wait 30 minutes before it was decided that the train should pull into platform 1. The lift was out of order, as is often the case in Tullamore.

I’ve been stranded on a train twice before in my wheelchair because there wasn’t assistance waiting for me at the train station (and I always give as much notice as possible – okay, not always twenty-four hour notice, but I do try). It’s very annoying having to get off at the wrong station and either get a train or a taxi back. It eats into our time and financial resources. Our time isn’t viewed to be as valuable as everyone else’s, I don’t think.

Impairment doesn’t create inequality, society does. Having to give twenty-four hours’ notice to use a train is discrimination and yet, in spite of the many complaints made in relation to accessibility to Irish Rail (according to thejournal.ie, there were 12 complaints about accessibility in 2014. This 12 merely represents complaints made, not necessarily the number of passengers who experienced problems with regards to access), things seem to be getting worse, not better, for disabled passengers.

I’m not alone in experiencing these problems. Last year a friend of mine and wheelchair user, Ann Marie Champ, was denied assistance in Newbridge train station and was forced to continue to Kildare. (Ann Marie works in Dublin and commutes every day). Once in Kildare she had to wait for a taxi to arrive from Portlaoise to bring her to Newbridge. An enraged Ann-Marie remarked, ‘I flew to Australia last year and had to get six flights and had no issues. It only took five minutes over the phone to organise. Yet, I can’t get 20 minutes up the road because of the refusal to lower a piece of aluminium.’

Louise Bruton, the founder of a blog/accessibilty guide called Legless in Dublin, also had trouble with Irish Rail last November when the assistance she had requested in Heuston Station didn’t arrive, leaving her stranded on the train for twenty minutes. ‘The train was stopped further down the tracks than normal and the lights were dimmed, so I was in a scene from a 1990s teen horror flick,’ she told the Irish Independent. “I stuck my head out the door… I shouted again and again and all I could hear in return was my echo. I pressed the train’s emergency button but nothing happened. And then I tweeted. My responses gave me the emergency number for Heuston and, thankfully, Heuston’s very apologetic station manager, Liam Donegan, answered my call and rescued me.’

Ann-Marie and Louise’s experiences show that there is no dignity in travelling when you have a disability in Ireland. And now it’s been proposed by a Cork TD that travel pass holders should pay a subsidy of €6 for travel! For disabled people at least, this is outrageous. Many of us don’t drive and are solely dependent on public transport to get around. And even if was decided that €6 was reasonable, this still wouldn’t mean that disabled passengers would be guaranteed worry-free, hassle-free journeys.

I’m afraid I don’t have definite answers to these ongoing issues. There’s no doubt, however, that these practices are discriminatory. People need to continue to be vocal about this issue, because for me, as a contributing citizen, this isn’t good enough.

In the meantime, fingers crossed that I get to and from my meeting in Dublin on Wednesday, without incident!

Round my Hometown

I was born and reared in the Midlands town of Tullamore for nineteen years.

Between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five, I decided to spread my wings and I moved to Dublin while studying in Trinity. I loved Dublin and living independently, and I think my favourite part was being able to get around so easily, whether it was in my electric wheelchair or using public transport (buses and Luases, I mean. The DART is notoriously dangerous and unreliable for people who use wheelchairs or have mobility difficulties). The Luas in particular became my lifeline when I was living out in Rathmines, and I used to use it coming into work in Trinity during the summer. When somewhere is easy to access and get around, it really adds to your quality of life. At one point, I was both working and studying. It was great.

Although I loved Dublin, I knew that I couldn’t afford to stay there after I graduated. So I moved to Mullingar, then Portlaoise before finally choosing to stay in Tullamore. It was great to be in a place that I felt I belonged in and that I thought I could get around easily and independently. And to be fair, I could – until I started using a wheelchair. Suddenly, certain areas of Tullamore didn’t seem so welcoming to me any more.

I’ve always believed that disability is defined by the obstacles that are created by society rather than one’s individual impairment, and I believe that reasonable accommodations such as ramps, clear signage, wide step-free doors and loud signals at pedestrian crossings can go a long way in ensuring our town is accessible to all who use it. In 2014, the Offaly Leader Forum (now the Laois/Offaly Leader Forum), which is a group of people with varied disabilities – physical and sensory – organised and conducted a full-scale accessibility review of Tullamore, the first of its kind in ten years. As people with disabilities, we were the experts in identifying barriers to access in town. The group took the undertaking seriously, taking photographs and compiling reports, and subsequently these reports were compiled into a hundred-and-one paged document, an impressive achievement by any standards. We then presented it to town councillors in Tullamore Town Library (which is accessible, according to our audit) and urged them to see Tullamore through our eyes.

Since making our presentation, the Laois/Offaly Leader Forum has established good working relationships with our town councillors, who we have met with several times to voice our concerns. Through doing this, we are now working together, and we have urged the council to consult us whenever they make changes in the town. And recently we discovered that our annoying persistence is starting to pay off.

Little changes and repairs are taking place all over town, but for me the most significant of these is  the ramps that have now been installed on the top of Main Street and at the Srah Roundabout. I live in Glendaniel, which is ten minutes’ walk from the Town Park, Lidl and Alison’s primary school, Scoil Mhuire, and the installation of these ramps means that I no longer have to proceed beside the footpath on the road onto traffic coming off the roundabout. It’s safer for me, my child and for the poor drivers who I’m sure don’t want to dent their cars on my wheelchair…! And the best part of the repairs is the knowledge that as a group, the Laois/Offaly Leader Forum, were taken seriously and listened to. But then again, we were dealing with people we knew for years, and people who have always supported the Laois/Offaly Leader Forum, for example Eddie Fitzpatrick and Declan Harvey (among many others, of course). Isn’t that the most important thing: being able to truly be an equal part of your community?

Now, more than ever, I’m looking forward to raising our child in a town that means so much to me. The town where I went to school, and developed a passion for writing. The town where I got my first summer job in the Tullamore Tribune, as well as my first ‘real job’ in the Offaly Centre for Independent Living Ltd. The town where my neighbour, who used to live eight doors down us, remains my best friend.

I have to admit, Tullamore always was a pretty great place to live, but with these little changes to our town, it can become a great place for everybody to live independently.

20 Experiences that you are likely to relate to if you have a disability in Ireland

Hi there. Yes, it’s yet another disability post. Sorry about that, but, y’know, after living with a disability since birth and working in the disability sector for ten years, you become accustomed to the challenges facing people with disabilities every day in their quest for equality, respect, or sometimes just to be left the f*** alone to live their lives. If you are a ‘normie’, that is a person ‘without disability’, you might be a bit offended, and for this I apologise; you can’t please everyone and all that.

Here we go:

1. You are going about your normal business in your local Tesco and are reaching for an item when a stranger who has been watching you for half an hour (following you around the shop actually) pops out of nowhere to grab said item, startling you and causing you to fall on the floor. You look like a tit because you’re a grown adult who is now lying on the floor. Now they are pulling you up by your arms which is a waste of time because  your feet are not ready and bam! down you go again. Why do they let you out on your own?

2. When people can’t understand you because of your speech impairment and they start talking slower to you: ‘I – can’t – understand – you’. Well, I can still understand you, you tool, it’s me who needs to speak slower. Incidentally, I’ve been reliably informed that if someone has a hearing impairment/is deaf/Deaf, speaking slower makes things worse as the person may rely on lip-reading. So there.

3. When you try to order a wheelchair accessible taxi (the phone numbers for these are known by a sacred few) and are told that the taxi doesn’t operate past 11.30pm (come on, even Cinderella got till midnight) or that you didn’t book it four months ago,so no dice Ha, thought you’d be spontaneous, didn’t you? You thought wrong.

4. Total strangers think it’s okay to come up and bless you. Sometimes they grab your wrist, holding back tears. ‘You should go to Lourdes’, they say. I’ve been offered money to go to Lourdes and be cured. Guess what, people? I’ve been to Lourdes, and I’m still disabled. I want my money back.

5. You decide to stop being a heathen and go to Mass. I recently went to a dinner held by a disability organisation and there was a lovely Mass beforehand. However, there is something slightly disconcerting about having a Gospel where Jesus healed all the lepers and cripples when 75% of your congregation use wheelchairs or walking aids. Not that I’m equating disability with leprosy, but still.

6. You are an individual! You are You! So why is it when you see a person with a disability on the street are you likely to think, ‘I wonder do I know them’, and if you don’t, ‘I wonder why I don’t know them’.

7.  You ring Eircom/the bank/AES/Electric Ireland in relation to your most recent bill and they have those stupid voice activated menus. And then, after being on hold for 45 minutes, they disconnect you because they can’t understand you.

8. On a related note, people hanging up on you because they think you’re drunk, which saps your self-esteem so much that all you can then think about is getting very drunk.

9. Eejits trying to push your electric chair because they’re too silly to simply say ‘excuse me’. Incidentally, there is a way to manually push electric wheelchairs which involves unlocking the mechanics underneath it, which is handy if it breaks down. However, I can easily move the chair myself if I want – it’s amazing! Also, I’m pretty sure that if I lifted somebody out of the way in a queue, I’d get punched in the face.

10. If you are foolish enough to get angry or annoyed at anyone in 7, 8 or 9 above, you earn the dreaded ‘angry crip’ badge. Nobody like the angry  crip, or to use the more alliterative term ‘crip with a chip’. You think the whole world is out to get you. It’s not, it’s all in your vivid imagination. Get a grip.

11. Because of the strong support network provided by IWA and CIL (thanks guys!), it’s common for people with disabilities to befriend one another through committees, social events, etc. Beware that if you decide to meet up with your mates outside these circles, and you all have disabilities, you are guaranteed to have at least one nosy Nelly come up to you and ask ‘are you all out for the evening? Isn’t it great to get out?’ Er, out from where? Do people still think that people with disabilities should be institutionalised? Scary thought.

12. If you go for a drink/coffee/meal with your husband/friend/Personal Assistant/Family member, they may well be asked what you want to order. This is called ‘does he take sugar’ syndrome (no, honestly). Basically it’s an assumption whereby  you as a person with a disability cannot make basic decisions for yourself because you are a complete tool. No point in asking you so. You may hope for the best.

13. A noun refers to a person, place or thing. Just to clarify: a wheelchair is not a buggy, wheelbarrow or chariot; a person who uses a wheelchair is a separate entity from the wheelchair (a liberation tool), a person who uses these aids does so to get around, not just to get a pass into using the accessible toilet.

14. Which brings me to this point: sticking a wheelchair symbol on a toilet cubicle door does not make it an accessible toilet. If you cannot get the door closed when you bring your wheelchair inside the cubicle, then the toilet is not accessible. I’m sure the world does not want to watch people with disabilities pee, but hey, if it does, who am I to judge?

15. If you’re a bit of a gambler, why not head off for the day on the train? Sure, don’t they even have accessible toilets now? (not bad toilets either). Don’t forget to remind the train station staff ten times to ring ahead to your selected destination so that they can have the ramp ready for you. But don’t be surprised if, when you arrive, there is no sodding ramp and the station weren’t informed you were coming. Sure it’s no big deal travelling to the next station, begging them to get the ramp and let you off, and travelling back. Sure what else would you be doing?

16. If you’re a real daredevil altogether, get the DART. My husband nearly had his arm amputated by the doors of the DART when they closed on his hand and  then the DART proceeded to take off. He was on the platform and he could feel himself being dragged alongside the train. It took six strong men to pry the door open and release his hand. The reason why my husband had his hand in the door in the first place is because my friend and I were waiting for the ramp which didn’t materialise. What did we do? See number 15 above.

17. If you have a disability, you have to be nice, polite and well-behaved all the time. Telling someone to mind their own business does not go down well. Don’t let them know that we are real people, sssh! Some people with disabilities, just like you normies, are generous, kind and friendly. But others are just downright assholes. And guess what? Just because you know one, doesn’t mean you know us all.
18. People think it’s okay to ask you about your sex life. This is just wrong on so many levels. Why do people want to know this information? I blame programmes like ‘Little People, Big World,’ a show where a family explores their everyday lives in the public domain. I don’t want to hear about your sex life, don’t ask me about mine!
19. Having children is a gift, and there is a mistaken assumption that our children will be burdened by us and will have to care for us because we have disabilities. This will never happen as long as  the government realises that parents can be empowered through the provision of services and equipment that put us in the driving seat. Simples!
20. Finally, having a disability is not the end of the world, but people tend to think that it is. They find it incredible that we can be devoid of resentment or anger at the world for the hand we’ve been dealt. I know I have days where I wish I had more energy and less pain, but I’m sure even normies have these days. So stand (or sit) proud and tall. You are brilliant. You are fantastic. You are the subject of much speculation and curiosity. Enjoy it. Jordan had to get her assets enlarged for that sort of attention.
And all you do is go about your everyday life!
Well done, you xxx

‘DARE’ to go to College

I will always remember my four years as a student of Trinity College with fondness. But I must admit, there were times when I felt like a giant imposter. I was studying with some of the most intelligent minds in the country, and I remember sitting in the tutorial groups, listening to my peers talking, thinking, ‘Wow, I have not got a clue what these people mean by “post-modern” and “post-colonialism”. I wonder if my parents would be mad if I just left and became this “madwoman in the attic” I’ve just read about’.

Part of the reason I felt like an imposter was that I had asked for special consideration for the English Studies course on my CAO Form. Applying for a course via the CAO is a daunting experience for any student, but when disability or a Specific Learning Difficulty puts you at an academic disadvantage, it can mean putting more time and effort into your studies. On the face of it, I was a straight-A student, but only because I spent eight hours a day studying for the points. Honestly. Ask my husband or my dad (I would say ask my friends but I don’t have any because I spent eight hours a day, i.e. 4pm-12am, studying for two years). Even this wasn’t enough to secure me the 525 points I needed to study in Trinity; I only got 475.

Thank goodness for DARE.

DARE, which stands for Disability Access Route to Education, is a supplementary application process which complements the traditional CAO application process, allowing the candidate with a disability to compete for their course of choice, even if they do not meet the points requirement for the course. Availing of DARE also allows the candidate to inform chosen colleges of any difficulties or obstacles he/she may have faced during secondary school.  In addition, it alerts the college to a student’s existence and to be prepared to offer any academic supports, including note takers, assistive technology and library assistants.

Applying for college via DARE was  hard work. As part of the supplementary application process, applicants are obliged to include evidence of disability from an appropriately qualified psychiatrist, psychologist, neurologist or paediatrician.  These reports must be less than three years old. You may also have to complete a personal statement, outlining the challenges you faced throughout your educational journey and the impact your disability had on your academic life.

I remember when I applied for DARE, I did not really understand how the process worked. When I got my Leaving Cert results, I was convinced that I would be offered my third choice (Maynooth) instead of Trinity, which were my first two choices. I don’t think my mother was prepared for my moving to Dublin; she certainly wasn’t as ecstatic about the prospect as I was (yay! freeedom in Dublin City Centre!)

As time passed by, I gained more self-confidence and really started to enjoy College. I lived on Campus in Botany Bay and every morning I woke to the gentle poc-poc of tennis balls outside and the not-so-subtle gonging of the clock in Front Square. I would meander aimlessly around Front Square for hours, looking a little lost and demented, taking it all in while my wheelchair shook my bones going over the cobbles. I was a bit of a loner, I didn’t join any clubs or societies, I’m not really a big drinker, but I used to frequent many a coffee shop between lectures (nobody told me that you are supposed to be in the library reading when not at one of your twelve one-hour lectures, but when it mattered. I figured it out).

Trinity was one of  the best experiences of my life. I studied literature under some of the finest writers and literary critics of our time, but more significantly, the sense of belonging and community was so strong that I never felt like a ‘student with a disability’. Yes, I felt intimidated at first by how much my peers seemed to know about literature, but once I gained confidence, I too found the courage to ramble on about the portrayal of women/feminism/use of language or ‘rhetoric’. Once I stopped perceiving myself as different, I suddenly wasn’t.

And yet, the Student Disability Services, and in particular Orlaith O’Brien, Amy O’Shea (both have left), Trish Ferguson, Declan Treanor and Declan Reilly were always so supportive. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the support offered by these people (as well as many others) was second to none, and I was always listened to and treated with the utmost respect. There is no doubt that the provision of notetakers and library assistance enabled me to achieve an honours degree in English Studies.

If you are eligible for DARE, please answer ‘Yes’ to the relevant question on the CAO form. After 1 February, you will receive supplementary forms from colleges who are accepting DARE applications.

DARE is holding a number of application advice clinics in venues nationwide on Saturday 10th January 2015 from 10am-1pm, to allow students to ask questions and find out more about the scheme.  Further information is available on www.accesscollege.ie.

Talkin’ bout a revolution (again)

Election time has arrived again, and the atmosphere is almost electric. Posters on every pole, letterboxes crammed with manifestos, Facebook (and Twitter, I assume) home to pre-election scandal, the most recent being a van used for a candidate’s campaign parked illegally in an accessible parking space. This move caused outrage across social media sites this morning. Being a poet at heart, I saw this a metaphor for how far people with disabilities have yet to go in their quest for equality in Irish society.

Over the last five years, my profession has allowed me to explore and learn about the Independent Living Movement. I’ve studied the history of people with disabilities prior to the Movement and was physically sick after reading about the T4 Project which took place under Hitler’s reign during the Second World War. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, I am talking about a scheme that Hitler himself devised where people with ‘incurable’ disabilities were institutionalised and later gassed or injected with a lethal substance (a ‘mercy death’).

The Independent Living Movement came almost twenty years later, coinciding with other human rights movements. I can imagine the excitement in the air as Ed Roberts, a young man and polio survivor, enlisted the assistance of an ‘attendant’ which enabled him to live away from home and attend university. He and a group of fellow ‘disabled students’ formed a group called the ‘Rolling Quads’ and they established the first Center for Independent Living in 1972. At this stage, the concept of somebody with a disability having control over the fundamental aspects of their everyday lives, such as deciding what time to get up in the morning, where to go, whether to work or pursue leisure activities was a foreign one.

And despite the Independent Living Movement arriving in Ireland in 1992, the physical and emotional freedom of people with disabilities is still in question.

We have to ask ourselves why, twenty-two years since the Personal Assistant Service was made available in Ireland, people in this country are forced to live in residential institutions and hospitals; why people who need the assistance to live independently live in fear of vital services being taking away; and how we got to a point where we say nothing in response to all the cutbacks in recent years in case we ‘rock the boat’, even though many people remain on a sinking ship, waiting to be rescued by a Government who caused us to sink in the first place.

It seems that Government is only interested in helping people with disabilities when times are good. Despite all the studies that have been conducted on the viability of the Personal Assistant Service, people are still living in institutions and hospitals, where they exercise little choice over their everyday routine. Having a disability is an expensive way of life, and yet medical cards are being revoked, housing grants are being refused and household allowances are almost non-existent. These cuts inhibit people with disabilities from participating fully in Irish society and ironically from contributing to society rather than sponging off the State.

So until we stand united and say ‘enough is enough – we want equality and guaranteed access to the services that will enable us to achieve it’, we as people with disabilities will always be vulnerable, passive recipients of services that are reliant on state funding. We need to ensure that in the future, we regain choice and control over our lives. The time for talking is now over; we need to speak louder with our actions.

Yet again.