The Crumbs from the Table

Hey guys, guess what today’s ranty blog is going to be about? *fanfare* You’ve guessed it – the farce otherwise known as Budget 2018, which was released earlier today (10 October). Though you know what, I’m not actually surprised at how little it helps ‘our people’ (aka us crip-folk) and you know why?

Because the UNCRPD (United Nations Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities) hasn’t been ratified yet! What’s that got to do with the price of eggs, you may well ask (or not, maybe you don’t give a shite). Well, I’ll tell you, shall I? As long as the Convention remains unratified, disabled people are at the very least being denied the rhetoric to challenge the discrimination and sometimes the cruel and inhumane torture doled out to them on a daily basis!

Our government continually makes excuses for the delay in the ratification of this UN Convention, allowing them to blatantly disregard the human rights violations that are occurring in the meantime. For example, Article 19 of the UNCRPD states:

 States Parties to the present Convention recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others, and shall take effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of this right and their full inclusion and participation in the community, including by ensuring that:

a) Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement;

b) Persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community;

c) Community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs.

If the Convention was ratified, then the government would have to justify why there are currently over one thousand young people with disabilities and an estimated three thousand disabled people in total inappropriately placed in nursing homes. It would have to explain why funding for Personal Assistance is allocated to the HSE who in recent years, owing to financial constraints, have been awarding the service on the basis of absolute need – in their eyes, accessing work/college, personal care and physio. Gone are the days where a person with a disability could be trusted to be accountable for their own decisions. Instead, a lack of funding has resulted in service users (‘Leaders’) having to justify and account for every minute of their P.A. service. Personal Care trumps all. As long as we’re up and dressed, it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not we can actually go anywhere! This is how people become institutionalised in their own homes, a common problem that is rarely discussed.

There has been no additional funding in this area since 2008, but there has been increased demand for services. As a result, many people are on waiting lists for P.A. hours, some of whom are stuck in hospitals and nursing homes in the meantime. Some of these people are well able to contribute to society, so why aren’t we letting them?

Under Article 15, which states ‘Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’, Ireland has a lot to answer for. We’d all be naïve if we thought that Aras Attracta was the only serious incidence of cruelty toward disabled people in congregated settings. HIQA, though useful, is very clinical in its approach and the danger is that it may be merely ‘a tick-box exercise’ which doesn’t actually measure the happiness of residents. I have yet to see a HIQA report that recommends that some residents (or most, but not all – I appreciate that) would greater benefit from being accommodated to live in the wider community with support.

If HIQA decide in the future to regulate community services, then they must do so with Independent Living and its components of independence, empowerment, choice, options and rights as the core of their policies. Our government needs to realise that the ratification of the UNCRPD (whatever this entails) must shift the disability narrative from one of charity to  one of empowerment. We don’t want to have to be grateful for government handouts, but we are never going to be able to contribute to society in a meaningful way unless we’re enabled to do so. And this must happen through investments in the services we choose.

We want rights, not charity.

We want all the cuts made to disability services reversed, as well as additional investments. Because after today’s budget, people with disabilities are no better off than they were ten  years ago.

I’m sorry, but the crumbs from the table just aren’t good enough anymore.





How Many More Graces?

I go through phases, extremes of mood and thoughts. Sometimes I’m elated. I love writing. I know I’ve made the right choices in life. Other times I worry that I’m making myself increasingly unemployable as the days go past.

I haven’t really left the Centre for Independent Living behind, of course. I still volunteer a lot of my time to promoting the philosophy of independent living and campaigning for equal rights for people with disabilities. In fact, I’m now part of an activist group called By Us With Us. we’re still relatively new, but we recently set up a blog which is well worth a look.

Independent Living is not my job any more, my husband insists. You’re a writer now. You should be dedicating every free minute you have to writing and trying to get published.

And oh, how I would love to! How I wish life could be this simple, that I could have the luxury of locking the office door every day, focusing on nothing but putting words down on paper. My  mother used to tell me that I can’t fix all of the wrongs in the world. She was right, of course, but there are so, so many wrongs that I feel that I must try and do something;

As most of you know, I’m writing a novel at the moment, a story that initially came to me in 2007 while I was unemployed for six months. The story explores the life of a disabled woman who was tortured by a nun in a residential institution and how she copes with the aftermath of that abuse. Lately, I’ve been finding it hard to stay motivated. This is off the wall, I thought to myself as I rewrote the first chapter the other night (for the sixth time). No-one reading  this is going to believe that someone could be treated with such cruelty.

I’m not a trusting person anyway, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this distrust, particularly in the government at the moment (or, as it is starting to transpire, any government before or after this). Yesterday, the story of the abuse suffered by ‘Grace’ dominated headlines, a girl with an intellectual disability (now forty years old) who was abused while in foster care. It’s still a little unclear the extent or the nature of the abuse; some of it is of a sexual nature.

Grace has an intellectual disability and in the eyes of the Irish state at least, cannot be trusted to have her own narrative voice. And in Ireland, this is not limited to those with intellectual disabilities. The opinions and lived experiences of disabled people in Ireland don’t seem to matter to our policy makers.

I doubt that Grace is an isolated case. So why is there such little uproar about the status quo? There is mounting evidence to illustrate that disabled people should not be living in institutions, that the state cannot be trusted to provide a decent standard of care. Who can?

In December 2014, the nation was shocked by the Aras Attracta scandal, which saw people with intellectual disabilities being physically and psychologically tortured by those who were meant to care for them. People were disgusted by the RTE documentary; at one point my husband, whose stomach was turning, asked me to turn it off. I refused.

‘How can you sit there and watch that?’ he asked, bewildered by my seeming nonchalance.

‘Because,’ I replied, ‘Ireland has buried its head in the sand for too long. We have a government, and this and successive governments not only allow this abuse to happen, but by implementing cutbacks create situations such as these. We need to see this and someone needs to take responsibility.’

The Aras Attracta staff were later held accountable and given paltry sentences of community service. But what happens to those who continue to abuse people with disabilities behind closed doors, and are never questioned? I’m not talking solely about people in congregated living settings – I’m talking about people who suffer abuse at the hands of their families too.

When I started doing some research for my novel, what struck me was the lack of information available about how disabled people were treated in Ireland over the last fifty years. Apart from a few research papers, the Irish Wheelchair Association’s collection of stories, Extraordinary Lives, and this documentary on the programme ‘Horizon’ called ‘The Weakest Link’ on RTE in 1966, there isn’t a lot of documented stories about what life was like for a disabled person, particularly in a residential setting. So essentially I’m writing a story about something I have little information.

But if I can achieve this, then I will be happy. Because it’s time for disabled people to tell their stories, and to discover and reclaim their histories.

If we don’t, then our stories will be like Grace’s – spoken through the mouths of people on the outside.  Our stories should – and deserve to be – woven into the mainstream fabric of Irish society.