How the disabled are left on their shelf
are 350,000 people with disabilities among our population. Disability
affects 25 to 30 per cent of the population. That's a lot of votes, and
yet the government does little or nothing, says Paddy Doyle
The present government has
not, contrary to what many people in the disability ‘industry' would
like us to believe, been good for people with disabilities, for their
families or friends. Undoubtedly, Bertie Ahern and his colleagues in
government will trot out lines about the great strides made by his
government on behalf of "the disabled", but those of us with
disabilities and those who work or have worked in that field know the
reality is very different.
are things no better now than they were five or ten years ago? The
government has formally ‘committed' itself to implement the
recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with
Disabilities, ‘A Strategy for Equality', a report hailed by many as
being one of the greatest insights into disability and people with
disabilities ever published in the entire world.
as with so many reports relating to people with disabilities, it
appears the government has in reality decided to shelve this one. There
is no full minister at the cabinet table who directly represents people
with disabilities, despite the huge numbers of people whose lives
disability affects. A Strategy for Equality estimates that there are
approximately 350,000 people with disabilities in Ireland. When
families are added to this, the number of people affected by disability
can be safely estimated to be close to a million or more. Based on
current population figures, disability affects 25% to 30% of people in
Ireland, directly and indirectly.
often said that the hearts of various and successive government
ministers are in the right place. This is an anatomical fact, and must
be interpreted only as such. It is also a fact of life that "having a
heart" does not move the barriers - and not just physical barriers -
encountered by those with disabilities forward one proverbial inch.
the government and a sizeable proportion of the population saw the
‘Special Olympics' as a turning point for people with disabilities, the
real beneficiaries of the games were large financial institutions,
motor car dealers and various other corporate bodies. The games are
long since over and little if anything is now heard of people with
disabilities except when a social worker or psychologist decides that
parents are not capable of minding their own sons or daughters and take
them into ‘care'. Unemployment rates among people with disabilities are
nothing short of scandalous, standing as they currently do over 70%.
Even the casual observer can see that discrimination against people on
the basis of a disability is alive and well in Ireland.
quota systems for the employment of disabled people exist, they are not
underpinned by legislation and thus are meaningless. I've lived with
disability for over 40 years and despite the pious platitudes of
governments and others I still find I am at the bottom of the social
pile and often relegated to the status of second-class citizen. It is
now time that a constitutional referendum was held which would make it
a criminal offence to discriminate against a person with a disability
on any grounds.
In recent years there has
been much talk about an improvement in services to people with
disabilities. On close examination it is not hard to see that these
‘improvements' in services are nothing but a figment of someone's
over-active imagination. I have been waiting for more than four years
for neurological services — of any kind. Other people with physical
disabilities, who need services such as physiotherapy, occupational
therapy or speech therapy within their own community, find such
services as difficult to find as rocking horse manure. It is not
unusual for people to have to wait anything from six months to a year
to be ‘assessed' for a wheelchair, let alone get the actual chair.
frustration brought about by not being able to avail of services
essential to ensuring the best possible quality of life to a person
with a disability is everyday, long-lasting and intense. Meanwhile,
quality of life deteriorates and depression sets in, compounding an
already difficult situation and further diminishing quality of life.
needs to happen to enhance the lives of people with disabilities and
their families. The process must begin immediately, as further
procrastination can only further marginalise a very sizeable group of
people who have had merely minimal attention to their needs from this
society for far too long.
And in case you
think it is no concern of yours, don't forget that disability is not
confined to those of us who already have disabilities. It can happen to
anyone — it can be the result of an accident, or the onset of
conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease or dystonia.
Disability is, too, part of the ageing process. It's pretty hard to
Doyle is a former winner of the People Of The Year award. He has
suffered with idiopathic torsion dystonia since the age of nine, an
incurable condition which produces frequent — almost continuous —
muscle spasms. He is author of a best-selling autobiography, The God Squad, and maintains an informative and amusing internet presence at www.paddydoyle.com His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org