International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Willeke Van Eeckhoutte shares her thoughts and hopes on International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).

December 3rd, 2020 will be regarded as not just the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, but the year when global health problems expanded our medical knowledge about a viral infection that to this day, keeps on changing in nature. Never before has the disability community had so much to say - and explain - about what it needs to be included in the story of COVID-19.

It is my hope that the yearly observance of the IDPD will have a bigger impact on society than it did in the past. Whether you have a visible or invisible disability, the day aims to promote full and equal participation of people with disabilities, and raise awareness about much-needed inclusion in society, whether it is in political, social, economic, and cultural life.

The theme this year is “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-COVID-19 World.”

Logo IPWD

For many people, their post-COVID-19 experience is still ongoing, complete with lingering symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, chest pain, headaches, etc. after recovery. After seven months of trying to keep up with the coronavirus’s march around the world, we now know that it doesn’t discriminate, and that includes the disability community.

In a COVID world for people with chronic illnesses or other comorbidities, the answer is easy: if you want to avoid being diagnosed, stick to universal guidelines provided by expert virologists and immunologists, as well as MS Ireland, the HSE, Leinster House, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN, etc. A lot of research and common sense has already shown that COVID-19 becomes a choice instead of a possibility if you decide not to adhere to guidelines.

We all know that in 2018, Ireland was the last European country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, despite having signed the Convention in 2007. We also know that since having the UNCRPD ratified, things didn’t change all that much for people with disabilities. To become an inclusive society free of discrimination a lot more needs to be done because it cannot be that in 2020, people with disabilities have been unable to access certain health services that already had long waiting lists.

I, therefore, consider the IDPD and UNCRPD a work in progress and do so out of necessity because I otherwise feel like running to Leinster House to stand on the barricades and shout at government buildings just when my MS symptoms only allow me to walk from bed to fridge and back again; earplugs and woolly socks included. The joys of trigeminal neuralgia, sound sensitivity, and intense, uncompromising fatigue.

First of all, though, I want to thank and applaud MS Ireland for the extraordinary care and creativity in how it responded to COVID-19 by providing the latest news, including relevant and expert information as well as how to get through this unnerving time when you might feel dislodged from social contact and afraid of what the future might bring.

Also, the HSE, the government’s website, WHO (World Health Organisation), and plenty of other organizations have been doing a phenomenal job in creating guidelines easy enough to be applied by everyone, and wherever they are. They deserve the same recognition we showed essential workers by lighting candles on the street, clapping our hands.

The premise of the International Day on December 3rd is one I have been struggling with, and yes, it goes back to the superbug, isolation room, only doctors and nurses allowed while not knowing if I would make it out alive. When years later, during a pandemic and while on lockdown people are still attending house parties, it makes me cry, feel angry and helpless because they play with the lives of those who happen to belong on the vulnerable side of the scale, many of which are family and friends.

But for all the sad news we’ve had this year, I want to end this on a positive note because we’re no different than anyone else. What I consider the only disability in life, is a bad attitude, either that of my own or that of others.

So, we may be someone with a disability, but we know more than those unable or unwilling to see our abilities, our worth. Celebrate the person who you know you are and don’t forget to take care of yourself; or, cry if you want to and laugh as much and as loud as you can. Sing and dance from your wheelchair, tell yourself that you’re doing so from your Bentley Deluxe, and when others ask how you can be so optimistic, tell them, “Bubble wrap. The answer is bubble wrap.”


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