Our needs are not seen as pressing issues. They’re more like a box-ticking exercise. Each new building must meet minimum energy efficiency requirements - and rightly so - but new builds are not required to be suitable for someone with reduced mobility to live in. By law, new builds must only be suitable for a wheelchair user to visit for a short period of time. During this short period of time a wheelchair user can find themselves able to reach lowered light switches, but the adaptations more or less stop there. These adaptations don’t extend to something as obvious and necessary as being able to access an accessible downstairs loo!
In 2011, the Irish Wheelchair Association saw a 200% increase in housing applications when the housing strategy for people with disabilities was launched. Yet a decade on, access to wheelchair-accessible housing has not improved. This year they launched the Think Housing, Build Accessible campaign, which you can read more about here.
Allies needed to bring about lasting change
Sadly, as we’ve seen, we’ve seen, political change is slow, so what will it take to achieve any level of equality? I believe that we need more allies outside of the disabled community. If we look towards other successful movements in Ireland like the Marriage Equality referendum and the campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, it was widespread public support that accelerated these important campaigns. It was people caring even if the rights being fought for weren’t their rights.
It was a wonderful thing to see so many people come together to demand change and equality for these very worthwhile causes. I hope that at some stage those of us in the disabled community will also get to experience that kind of support.
I’m not ashamed of my MS or my disability. I have accepted them as just another part of who I am and all I want to do is get on with my life like anyone else. Yes, I’ve had to adapt how I live, like not being able to work full-time and needing naps etc, but as time has gone on that’s become my new normal. What really cripples me is that the imposed societal disability I experience is tenfold what my disease causes. That is what frightens me most about having a disability and it’s also what makes me end up obsessing about my MS. I do not fear needing a wheelchair again someday, I fear the way society will close the door on me because of it.
So rather than calling me inspiring for constantly doing battle with a disabling system, become my ally and help us fight for the equality that we are long overdue.
For further reading on disability equality check out the book Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally by Emily Ladau, and the Equal Too series on the Seneca Women Podcast Network.