TODAY is a day marked by immense frustration for people living with disabilities all over Ireland.
It marks the tenth anniversary since Ireland signed, but failed to ratify, an international agreement, called the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This agreement was carefully drawn up to recognise the rights of people with disabilities and to help them play a more active role in our own lives.
Ireland’s continued failure to ratify the treaty is an affront to people with disabilities here.
We are now the last country in Europe yet to prioritise the rights of Irish citizens living with disabilities, almost 7,000 of whom live here in Cork.
The underlying purpose of the convention 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.’ I am one of the people our current and past Governments has failed by continuing to delay ratification of this important treaty.
At the age of 16 I had an accident at home which left me with a life-changing injury. I was working in the garden and went to jump off a wall and slipped. I went head-over-heels on the other side and landed on my head. My body came down and the force broke my neck and damaged my spinal cord. I have been using a wheelchair ever since.
After my accident I spent three weeks in the Mater hospital in Dublin in intensive care and the following 10 months in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire. When I left the hospital I cried. I cried because I was going to miss the friends I had made during my ten-month stay, but I also cried because I was frightened of the unknown. I was scared of returning to a society I wasn’t sure would accept me, or one in which I could accept this changed version of myself.
That was in the year 2000. Some seven years later, Ireland committed to implementing the UNCRPD. By that time I had completed my Leaving Certificate and had spent a number of years in University College Cork and was beginning to consider life outside of education.
I was hesitant of seeking employment at first. I was confident of my intellectual ability having kept pace with my fellow students through a BA and three MAs, but I knew that were I to get a job, I would need to overcome some barriers, the main one being obtaining workplace assistance in order to complete some personal care and to assist me carry out some work tasks throughout my working day, simple things such as passing me a book, putting a letter in an envelope, or signing a form.
I began to search for workplace personal assistance first in order to have a plan in place for any possible job offers. I was met with a wall of confusion. I contacted the Department of Health who put me on to the Department of Jobs and Enterprise who in turn referred me back to the Department of Health. Each Department told me that they did not provide such a service.
It seemed utterly ridiculous to me as I had received personal assistance throughout my education since acquiring my disability. The State assisted me on the road to preparing for employment but at the very moment I became ready to enter the workforce the services I had used, and now needed more than ever, seemed like a mythical creature that I had concocted in my imagination.
I wrote to local councillors, met with TDs and MEPs but each of them reacted as though I was speaking of something completely alien. I began to feel like I was not meant to have a job-which it was not something I was allowed to do.
Article 27 of the UN Convention refers to work and employment and mandates that State parties should:”Prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability with regard to all matters concerning all forms of employment, including conditions of recruitment, hiring and employment, continuance of employment, career advancement and safe and healthy working conditions.”
This was not my experience, nor is it the experience of many others.
Census 2012 showed that among people with disabilities aged 15 to 49, 16% had completed no higher than primary level education, compared with 5% of the general population. Of the total of 542,277 people aged 15 and over with a disability, just 20% were at work.
I am of the lucky ones. Through perseverance I did find a job in 2009 as Research Administrator for the Public Affairs Department of the Rehab Group and I am based here in Cork. Initially, my workplace assistance had to be carried out by my family who volunteered to come to my aid. I now receive workplace assistance under a Community Employment scheme, it is not ideal as cover is not guaranteed were my PA to become ill, and not all hours are covered but I greatly appreciate what I’ve been given.
Having been in employment for some time now I have learned that my career goals and aspirations must remain limited.
I can only work on a part-time basis currently, which means I am not highly paid. However, if I was to try to advance my career I would most likely lose essential supports, such as my medical card. Despite, my skills and abilities and everything I have overcome to get to where I am, I would be unlikely to acquire a job that would pay me sufficiently to cushion that incredibly important loss.
For me, one of the most important roles of this Convention is it would remove the term “where feasible” from aspects of my life and to replace it with “human rights”. Were this Convention ratified it would mean the services and supports I have used to complete my education, to live independently, and to enter employment would be less under the whim of the government party of the day. It also means that I would be properly recognised within the Treaties of the United Nations.
Over the years since acquiring my disability I have learned some things, despite society subconsciously trying to teach me otherwise. I have learned I am not less equal. I have learned that I am not a burden. I’ve learned that I’m a capable member of society well able to contribute to an independent and good life of my own and to the lives of those around me.
It’s time to implement this convention now so society can finally acknowledge the relevance and rights of people with disabilities. Yesterday, I travelled to Dublin to address our public representatives, TD’s and Ministers at Dáil Eireann. We will not give up the fight until our rights our recognised. Will you join us? What can you do?
Contact your local elected representative to express concern about the 10 year delay to ratification of the UNCRPD.
Contact any TD involved in Government negotiations to ask them to call for the urgent ratification of the UNCRPD.
Tweet your TD’s asking them to ratify with the hashtag #RatifyCRPD