‘When you have a physical disability, the world is a very unaccommodating place’

Ableism is defined as the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities, based on the belief that able-bodied people are superior

July is Disability Pride Month and for the first time Ireland is trying to participate with a festival. Now, I hear you think “didn’t we just have a Pride month, parade and all?” You are right, we did, and this is not the same. Where gay pride in June is necessary because too many people still can’t fathom the concept that love is love, Disability Pride is needed to drive out ableism.

Again, I can hear you sigh, thinking, “seriously, ableism? What are you on about?” Until 2009 when I got diagnosed with epilepsy, and more impactfully 2015, when I became hemiplegic (paralysed down my left side), I felt the same. I thought people with disabilities were well looked after, protected and taken care of. I couldn’t imagine people saying nasty things to them and whenever I saw someone in a wheelchair or walking with a stick, like me now, I felt sorry for them and made assumptions about them based on their disability.

And THAT, right there, is ableism.

Ableism is defined as the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities, based on the belief that able-bodied people are superior. It is, at its core, rooted in the assumption that disabled people require fixing and, very importantly, defines people by their disability.


After becoming paralysed in 2015, I learned very quickly that the world not only is a very inaccessible place when you have a physical disability, it’s also very unaccommodating.

I’m not even talking about the fact that Dublin is an old city and many buildings don’t have lifts, and stairs to get into, which makes them off-limits for most people with a physical disability.

I’m talking about smaller things that people do that blocks access, such as putting bins in the middle of the pavement or parking their car in such a way that a wheelchair can’t pass.

I’m talking about the absolute nightmare that is public transport when you have a physical disability, because either the lift at the station doesn’t work or nobody shows up to put the ramp out, which means you can’t get off the train.

I’m talking about restaurants that claim to be accessible when you call to ask (because you learn to always ask and never trust the website) and then turn out to have a 30cm-high step to get in and no ramp. (“People always just lift the wheelchair in and it seems easy enough so surely that’s accessible.” No, it isn’t.)

And I’m talking about people without a badge parking in disability spaces “for just five minutes”.

Obviously, these are only examples relating to myself, having a physical disability. I could fill a page with examples relating to accessibility, both physical and virtual for people with hearing or visual impairments as well as that for people with learning or intellectual disabilities.

Next to accessibility, ableism is most prevalent in people’s perception of those with disabilities and that perception often results in ableist comments. If I got a euro for every time someone asked me what is wrong with me, I’d live comfortably by now. Something went wrong, a surgery, but there is nothing wrong with me. And sure, on most days I’m confident enough by now to brush all that aside, together with the comments that “people like me” take all the good parking spots (I hear that one a lot, so much begrudging there), that I only got my job because I’m the pity hire or a disabled woman (it’s a double whammy apparently) or that “people like me” are nothing but a drag on society.

I can even take “no good man should waste his time on a cripple like you” (after what I thought was a nice date. To be honest, though, that one nearly broke me). And on a really good day even people just completely ignoring me, equating a physical disability with an intellectual one, just makes me shrug my shoulders now.

The point is, I shouldn’t have to deal with that, and neither should the 1 billion other people in the world with some kind of disability. There are more people in Ireland with a disability (13.5 per cent) than there are people who are left-handed (11.65 per cent) and anyone can become disabled at any age. And yet, many of those with a disability keep theirs hidden out of fear of judgment and stereotyping. Out of fear of ableism.

And that is why we celebrate Disability Pride this month.