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Dublin: 3°C Saturday 17 April 2021
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'I had no choice but to sit in the cold and conduct my private garda business on the street'

Vivian Rath describes how he felt disempowered after a recent trip to his local garda station.

Vivian Rath

ONLY A FEW weeks ago, I scooted down Gorey main street in Wexford to the Garda Station on my mobility scooter. I precariously mounted the kerb, deftly avoided the pillars in the middle of the footpath and carefully careered along the edge of some large potholes. I made it there in one piece to find I could not enter the station due to a number of intimidating looking steps.

I sat in the cold until a passer-by kindly went in and informed the Garda in charge, who in turn explained to me that the station was inaccessible.

My private Garda business was thus conducted in the waning light of a dreary October evening on the main street. I wrote to the Superintendent and received only an acknowledgement but no answers. I had become disempowered.

Today is United Nations Enable International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The theme for this year is, “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment for people of all abilities”.

There are significant societal gains possible from the inclusion of people with disabilities in all parts of community life and this day seeks to increase awareness of these gains. Yet, despite this International Day, I do not feel fully included in Irish society.

The Disability Act 2005, places obligations on public bodies to make buildings and services accessible to people with disabilities by 2015. This will require the re-fitting of older public buildings so that they comply with Part M of the Building Regulations.

On 21 October 2015, Minister Frances Fitzgerald published the Garda Building and Refurbishment Programme 2016-2021. However, Gorey Garda Station was not listed for funding. The Minister obviously does not believe that making the building accessible warrants funding.

Although a local issue, this is symptomatic of a larger problem that permeates throughout our society. The perception that disability issues do not matter.

 ’If you are reading this and thinking it doesn’t apply to me, think again’

People with disabilities are among some of the most impoverished in the country. Census figures indicate that they are only half as likely to be at work as the general population and they are more likely than non-disabled to experience discrimination. These are certainly not the characteristics of an equal society, one which cares for and empowers all of its citizens.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, as we still have yet to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), despite signing it eight years ago. The CRPD’s main purpose is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

If you are reading this and thinking it doesn’t apply to me, think again. OECD figures tell us that Ireland has an ageing population and ESRI research have demonstrated that most disability is acquired throughout the life course, bad hips, failing eye sight, dementia. So, if you live long enough, it is inevitable that you will become disabled. Inaccessible workplaces, venues and public utilities combined with bad attitudes and a lack of respect for human dignity. This could be your future.

It is society which disables people by creating barriers, leaving them unable to access services. There needs to be a greater awareness of the benefits of building with universal design so our environment can be accessed, understood and used by all-regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.

We need a greater commitment by the government for the removal of the barriers that prevent full participation in Irish society. In the words of the Dalai Lama, “In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision.”

As noted by the UN, when people are empowered they are better prepared to take advantage of opportunities, they become agents of change and can more readily embrace their civic responsibilities. We need the full implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act to ensure that those with all abilities are fully supported through their journey through education.

Most importantly persons with disabilities and the community around them need to appreciate that you and I have a voice. We have the power to change this situation.

A general election is just around the corner, use your voice to make disability an election issue. Highlight the barriers to our full inclusion in society, through social media, by writing to your local candidates. Remember this is a struggle for your rights, choices and full participation in society. Use your vote wisely and empower yourself to make change happen.

If you are interested in disability issues and campaigning on issues that affect you, the Disability Federation of Ireland will be hosting an event on Saturday 5 December, more information can be found here.

Vivian Rath is a PhD student in the School of Education, Trinity College Dublin and is researching the experience of students with disabilities at third level. He has been involved in the promotion of equal opportunity for people with disabilities for many years.

Read: ‘My son will never live independently, I fear for his future when I’m dead’>

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Vivian Rath

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