Let’s disABLE inEQUALITY; My story.
I will never forget the excitement and happiness that I felt when the CAO offer came – I was overjoyed! And then I thought about it in more detail. And then the worry kicked in – I was leaving the family nest, I was going to University in a different county, and all my friends had gone to other universities and colleges throughout Ireland. These would be concerns that every new student would have, but for me it was slightly different, as I have a disability.
The first thing that I did was got in contact with the disability services (access office) in Maynooth University (NUIM) immediately in order to get all of the supports that I needed to live independently sorted. I have personal assistants (PA) funded by MU and the HSE fund PA support also. Other supports provided by Maynooth University are assistive technology and Exam accommodations if and when required.
However, it has not all been plain sailing. I am a student teacher, and I go on placement as part of my course for three a week in St. Joesphs College, Lucan while I spent two days a week attending lectures. To secure employment in the future, I will need to be able to drive. However, the HSE did not want to fund the DAHL docking station for my car that allows me to get into the vehicle and drive from my Wheelchair. I also needed a bag rack, which is something that all wheelchair users require in my opinion. But when I asked for one, the response I got was “Don’t you have a PA?” Why should my PA carry my bag? How is this equality?
I also requested a chair riser – this element allows my chair to go up and down to 5 foot in height. It allows me to write on the whiteboard in the classroom, to order a pint at a bar, make a cup of tea, cook the dinner or to take money out of an ATM unassisted.
This technology puts me on a level playing field with everyone else, and do normal things, whatever normal is.
I eventually got the DAHL and the bag rack approved on appeal, but the HSE refused the funding of this life changing technology (chair riser) as it was not “essential”.
But I still face inequalities that most other students would not. I have been refused entry to nightclubs in case I get “hurt”. A regular recurrence is the out of order lifts and the steps that greet you as you enter the social settings…. Oh yeah and the “wheelchair accessible” toilets that are made inaccessible because of poor planning, targeting to minimum requirements and lack of awareness and funding!
I have also applied for a number of summer jobs over the last 5 years, and I get to interview stage and then don’t get the job. I’m not sure whether I am just terribly unlucky, or whether the employers are deterred by my disability. But it does make me wonder what is going to happen after I graduate with my Professional Master of Education (PME) classmates and start looking for a teaching post in a competitive labour force.
Indeed, I am concerned that when I leave university, I will face inequality. I will need to try and secure funding from the HSE for PA support from scratch. Public Services such as Bus Eireann will continue to disable me by not being able to implement their own accessibility features on their coaches, which is laughable wheely!!!
Having said that, I am looking forward to the day that I graduate with my peers and move onto a new chapter in my life.