Marian Maloney and Yaz the dog, Dr. Tom Clonan, Ellen Keane and Louise Bruton at Disable Inequality Launch. Photo credit Paul Sherwood.
Yesterday was an incredibly exciting day at the Disable Inequality Launch in Trinity College. We got to hear a huge range of voices, from all different backgrounds, that highlighted ways in which the government need to step up and a support people with disabilities in Ireland. I was speaking alongside the wonderful Marian Maloney, Paralympic swimmer Ellen Keane and Dr. Tom Clonan. We all have different experiences as disabled people or as parents to a disabled child but it’s important that we come together with this campaign.
Both Clonan and I mentioned the hugely successful Yes Equality campaign in the run-up to the referendum on same-sex marriage. Yes Equality gained the support of allies in the shape of Straight Up For Equality, Lawyers For Yes and even events like Hounds For Love had people and their furry allies out in force. At the moment, 13% of people in Ireland live with a disability but if we could get help from the other 87%, our allies, we could really make a difference.
During the campaign period, when politicians come knocking on your door, I want you to quiz them on their disability policies. Ask them what they are going to do for the disabled people in their community. Use me or use anyone you know with a disability as an example and get answers from them. Let them know how important it is for us to be included. We need this.
When You Are Disabled – Louise Bruton
Disable Inequality Launch
13 January, 2016
When you are disabled, you live in a different city to everybody else. No matter how long you have lived there and no matter how well you think know it, it’s not the same city. You have less options and your days are determined by the decisions of somebody else.
When you are disabled, you can’t just stroll into any pub, bar, restaurant or café when you meet up with friends. To make it from one side of the Liffey to the other, you have to carefully plan your route to avoid the step-filled Ha’Penny Bridge, the cobblestoned Temple Bar or the pathways along the Quays that are too narrow because of overgrown tree roots.
When you are disabled, you always have to take the long way round to get to the exact same point as everybody else.
Before I started using a wheelchair, I had 23 years of experience using crutches. And that’s how I knew the city then; as a crutches user. Although they weren’t embraced with loving arms, stairs weren’t an issue then but if it rained, wet floors, pathways and fallen leaves became a huge hazard for me. I could go almost anywhere that I wanted to, as long as I could be dropped to the front door and had a crafty place to lean.
When the wheelchair became a full-time fixture, I had to discover my city all over again. I had to say no an awful lot more, too. I ended up staying in more than I did go out. Places that I had loved and would have gone to every week were now off limits to me. Steps, stairs, too crowded, no accessible bathroom or even too far away from any public transport route meant that I had to rethink everything. I had to go online and research before I could give a yes or a no to someone. I had to put in hours of planning for a simple cup of coffee and that isn’t fair. That isn’t equal.
The word equality has gained so much strength in Ireland lately. Yes equality was blazoned across the country in May of last year, making Ireland the first country in the world to vote in same sex marriage. 2015 was, in many ways, the year for equality in Ireland but if we could continue on flying that flag this year, we could Disable Inequality for the 13% of people living in Ireland with a disability.
My big area when it comes to disability is access. With every review I put up on my site Legless in Dublin, I am basically asking places to ‘let me in’. As politicians are stepping back into government today and as they go around shaking hands and kissing the heads of babies during the campaign period, we need to remind them with Disable Inequality to let us in.
In Dublin, there are a number of places like the Light House Cinema, Honest to Goodness Cafe, Mannings Bakery, the 3Arena doing their best to be as accessible as possible but people with disabilities are still living in a smaller city to everyone else. Our lives and interests should not be limited to a handful of places.
At the moment, it costs €800 to apply for a Disability Access Certificate, which you need if you’re to follow Part M of the Building Regulations Act. For big corporations or franchises, €800 is nothing but for small business or sole traders, it’s a lot and allowances should be made for those who want to make a difference.
The discrimination and injustice that people with disabilities and their loved ones face day in day out is unbelievable. Last week, I was contacted by a woman who has a 5-year-old son who uses a wheelchair. At the moment, he’s not old enough to go out socialising by himself. But when that time comes, she wants to be prepared.
She wants to know what she can do now to make sure that he won’t be excluded when he’s older.
Every parent worries about their child. How they’ll get on in school, will they have nice friends, will they be interested in sport or music or art or reading or all of the above but how many parents have to go around their village, knocking on doors to ask if places would maybe consider becoming accessible so that their child can go and play with their friends? That is not fair.
The feeling of being left out or excluded is, unfortunately, the norm for us. Whenever a friend of mine is angered by the fact that a lift is broken or that a wheelchair bathroom is being used as a storage closet, I’m reminded that it shouldn’t be this way and I shouldn’t be treated like this. Making space for someone in a wheelchair or assisting someone with any disability shouldn’t feel like a chore. We, the 13%, in 2016 shouldn’t have to feel excluded anymore.
When you are disabled, your independence is the most important thing to you. For me, the moments that leave me feeling isolated are a direct result of someone else’s poor planning. It’s not fair that my perfectly planned day can be completely thrown off because of an inaccessible train station, a flight of stairs with no lift in sight or bin bags blocking up a footpath in the city centre, leaving me to ask for the help of a stranger.
When you are disabled, you live in a different city to everybody else and it’s about time that we changed that.