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TURNING 50



Turning 50 At the end of June I will turn fifty. My mother was reminding me today of many things I’ve done during my life to highlight the need for inclusion for people with disabilities and wheelchair users. Even while in secondary school I wrote to the newspapers about lack of access for wheelchair users in public places. In one of the large city centre cinemas I’d been carried up a stone staircase, chair and all, to a higher storey screening further films. It was humiliating, and my letter had many responses and became a consciousness-raising issue. Other times, I’ve been included in videos and interviewed by the Irish Times newspaper. When I was preparing go to college in Dublin, I had highlighted the issue of transportation after secondary school because there was no van transport for wheelchair users as there had been in most primary and secondary schools. I always wanted to go to University College Dublin [UCD] because my sister Bonnie and my brother Mark went to UCD. But there was no easy way to get there as a wheelchair user. So, I had to decide to go to Trinity College instead because the accessible public rail transport [DART] was available to me close to my home and with a stop in Dublin City near Trinity. When I moved into my own home with the help of the PAs [personal assistants] and the Independent Living Movement, I became involved with the Southside Partnership, in which community representatives and local branches of state bodies, such as housing, the department of social welfare, and other local agencies of the state, work together. As the representative of the disability movement, I became involved in helping foster the development of a door-to-door van transport membership company for wheelchair users. I was also part of the team asked to audit public venues [such as pools, restaurants, toilets, and other public places] with regard to their availability by people with physical limitations. I was Chairperson of the Disability Interest Group in the Partnership for eight years. When I was elected as the second disability rights officer in Trinity College, I held that post for two years. The most important thing I achieved was making that post permanent, and therefore ongoing. Having a separate focus on a segment of students within the large general student body, we were able to call attention to, and solve, those issues and needs for people with different physical limitations, not only wheelchair users, but those with hidden disabilities [like hearing loss, visual impairments, or even other conditions]. The result of my post-secondary school transport campaigning was that eventually the fund expanded to enable students with limitations to purchase any goods or services to help them in college. My understanding is that the fund is still running and helps people in secondary education as well. As the Independent Living Movement began to take root in the early 90s in Ireland, I became a committed member and was always involved in public demonstrations to further its development. The role of personal assistants is vital to this independent lifestyle, and important to people with disabilities. We cannot be independent without assistants, and their well-being—especially their pay and conditions—is fundamental to us. I give the above examples to show that I have been a disability rights campaigner most of my life, but the need for inclusion in society and its structures is still there. Even now I find myself having difficulty finding an accessible venue to have my 50th birthday party. I want to celebrate being fifty not only because my mother is still very much alive, but I want to invite my friends who use wheelchairs, and many of the people who have helped me during my life. Sadly, the place where I had my 40th no longer exists, another has no function rooms now, and another doesn’t have enough space for wheelchair users, while still others don’t even have any access at all for these good friends I want to invite. This makes me sad because in this day and age no wheelchair user or any person with mobility difficulties should be hampered in the choice of where to hold an event. I want to remind the government that when you are planning new legislation, consider our whole society. Include all ages, and all conditions. We are all human. Please focus on universal design plan



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