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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 12 December, 2017
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Cerebral palsy: 'I’m like everyone else. I want to party, get drunk, make mistakes'

I also think the success I’ve had on social media and on TV shows like First Dates shows that society as a whole is finally ready to see people with disabilities differently, writes Paddy Smyth.

Paddy Smyth Disability activist and social influencer

I WANT TO spread the message that people with physical disabilities can do pretty much anything with their lives. Okay, they may need support here and there, but why shouldn’t young people with disabilities be as ambitious as anyone else?

As a person with a physical disability, I’ve faced barriers all my life, including terrible bullying at school, and other people thinking that I wouldn’t be able to get a job or do much with my life. It took me time, and I certainly had my dark moments, but I overcame those factors and definitely feel stronger for it.

I also think the success I’ve had on social media and on TV shows like First Dates shows that society as a whole is finally ready to see people with disabilities differently.

I’m like everyone else

When people follow me on social media, they start to realise that I’m like everyone else. I want to party, get drunk, make mistakes. Sometimes I’ll be fun, sometimes I get upset. I’m not scared about letting people in. I’m happy to talk about everything – my family, dating, my sexual escapades. I just want to say we can have a life, get a job, live a full life.

I was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that affects movement and co-ordination, caused by a problem with the brain that occurs before, during or soon after birth. I have cerebral palsy in my legs, which means that how I walk is impacted.

In simple terms my brains sends a message to my legs which tells them to move in a different way. I walk with the assistance of crutches and have done so for most of life.

People are surprised to see someone with a disability working

I am quite a confident and outgoing person however, my disability does sometimes mean that I experience obstacles, barriers and stigmas that my able-bodied peers would not. People are quite often surprised to see somebody with a disability working, socialising, partying or out and about until the late hours. They have what I call an ‘innocent ignorance’ and preconceptions of the type of life a person with a disability would lead.

I don’t think changing attitudes is about shouting from the roof tops. It’s about educating people, and if we don’t socialise with people, hang out together, how is that going to happen?

If you are giving out, put yourself out there. Make them see what things are like.
I know I’m lucky because I use crutches to get around. That means I can get into most shops and restaurants when I’m out socialising and I can also work in most environments. I know friends who use wheelchairs find it much tougher.

Unfortunately, in 2017 there are still problems accessing education, employment and social venues. I regularly come across inaccessible buildings, restaurants and bars which have flights of steps leading up to the entrance or no accessible loos. Even public transport is still very inaccessible with only 5% of the taxi fleet being wheelchair accessible. You even have to provide 24 hours notice to travel by DART or train.

Restricting people with physical disabilities

This completely restricts people with physical disabilities from travelling spontaneously or in an emergency. Why should people with disabilities have to meticulously plan their daily lives? That makes life boring. Personally I want to be able to follow my impulses and emotions.

These are issues I feel strongly about so I’m doing everything I can to spread the word about the Irish Wheelchair Association’s Angels Campaign. I also want to say to people with disabilities themselves, aim high and never stop fighting for what you want in life.

Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) is Ireland’s leading representative organisation and service providers for people with physical disabilities. Paddy Smyth helped IWA to kick-start their national fundraising campaign by introducing IWA’s new Angels Christmas Products which will be sold by hundreds of volunteers nationwide throughout November. If you would like to follow Paddy on his journey on social media its @paddyysmyth. Further information about IWA can be found here

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About the author:

Paddy Smyth  / Disability activist and social influencer

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