‘This may be ac­ces­si­bil­ity, but it’s not in­clu­sion or equal­ity’

Forced to sep­a­rate from fam­ily and friends at games and con­certs, along with my ‘carer’, it’s clear so­ci­ety only sees my im­pair­ment

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Platform - Ais­ling Glynn

Dis­abled or dif­fer­ently abled? The first is gen­er­ally viewed as a nega­tive – pref­er­ence is to fo­cus on abil­ity. How­ever, I will con­tinue to use the term dis­abled be­cause it recog­nises that I and oth­ers are dis­abled by so­ci­ety’s re­sponse to dis­abil­ity.

I’m just home from Sem­ple Sta­dium, Thurles. Gal­way have beaten Clare in the All Ire­land semi-fi­nal re­play. That’s it for this sum­mer, but what a sum­mer we’ve had. Sun. Sand­wiches. Ex­tra-time. Sit­ting in crawl­ing traf­fic on the way home from Thurles. The ban­ner roar.

I was nine when Clare won the All-Ire­land in 1995. I didn’t know much about GAA, but I’ll never for­get those cel­e­bra­tions. That sum­mer, we all bought Clare jer­seys, hur­leys and foot­balls. When Clare won again in 1997, I was in fifth class. My friends and I did a GAA camp that sum­mer.

I re­mem­ber won­der­ing why I was a bit slower than ev­ery­one else and why I couldn’t kick the ball as far. I knew I’d never be a sports star, but at that stage I didn’t re­ally know why.

It was 16 years be­fore Clare made it to Croke Park for an­other All Ire­land. A lot changed for me in that 16 years.

As a child, we all piled into the car and stood and cheered in the packed ter­races. I re­mem­ber run­ning onto the pitch in Cu­sack Park for au­to­graphs af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle blew. I re­mem­ber the an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­cite­ment. I felt that ex­cite­ment again in 2013 from the wheel­chair area of Croke Park’s Ho­gan Stand.

There are mo­ments in life when you com­pletely for­get about your dis­abil­ity. Mo­ments like when Domh­nall O’Dono­van scored that point in ex­tra time to level the game for a re­play, or when Shane O’Don­nell scored that fa­mous hat trick.

There’s noth­ing like be­ing in a packed sta­dium. Watch­ing and cheer­ing among 80,000 peo­ple. All equally ex­cited.

All equal.

Wheel­chair tick­ets are lim­ited

It can be dif­fi­cult for ev­ery­one to get tick­ets, es­pe­cially for the big­ger games. Tick­ets for last Sun­day’s re­play were scarce. My friends queued in shops and on­line. One of my friends got five tick­ets. There were five of us. But wheel­chair tick­ets are lim­ited and have to be ap­plied for separately. Even though I’m used to this, ev­ery now and again it’s im­por­tant to think about th­ese ev­ery­day ac­ces­si­bil­ity chal­lenges and to think about how we as a so­ci­ety pro­vide dis­abled peo­ple with equal ac­cess. Not just ac­cess to hurl­ing matches. Ac­cess to transport and to ac­com­mo­da­tion. Ac­cess to per­sonal as­sis­tance hours to en­able dis­abled peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate mean­ing­fully in so­ci­ety. My friends and fam­ily al­ways keep a space in the car for me while we wait to hear about my ticket. The rule of thumb is one at­ten­dant per wheel­chair user.

Last week, Cork’s 96FM took a call from James ahead of a trip to Croke Park with his brother-in-law and two chil­dren. James had a dilemma. One wheel­chair user. One at­ten­dant. Should James let the nine- and 11-year-old off on their own, or let one of them ac­com­pany him, and pro­vide any as­sis­tance he might need? Th­ese are the lit­tle known dilem­mas. Dis­abling.

Awk­ward mo­ment

I think about the term ‘dis­abled’ when I’m sit­ting in the al­lo­cated wheel­chair seat­ing in the front row of the cin­ema, try­ing to ad­just my po­si­tion to watch com­fort­ably, or when I have to park my wheel­chair a row be­hind my friends. That awk­ward mo­ment. Be­ing sep­a­rated from friends or fam­ily di­min­ishes the ex­pe­ri­ence.

I went to a con­cert in Dublin re­cently with two of my sis­ters, one had flown in from Lon­don. Back to dilem­mas, which sis­ter would sit with me in the wheel­chair area and which one would stay down­stairs with our friends. As it turned out, there was lots of space down­stairs so we all stayed to­gether. Re­lief.

Ais­ling Glynn at the Clare ver­sus Gal­way All-Ire­land se­nior hurl­ing semi-fi­nal re­play in Thurles.

I couldn’t see risk. I could only see my sis­ters and friends. The of­fi­cial could only see the wheel­chair.

The con­cert played in the back­ground. Af­ter an hour or so, one of the of­fi­cials ap­proached and told me that the wheel­chair area was up­stairs. I thanked her for let­ting me know. She came back a few min­utes later and said her boss was in­sist­ing I go up­stairs to take my seat in the wheel­chair area. I ex­plained that we were happy where we were. One of my sis­ters asked why, and she said it was for “health and safety rea­sons”. The con­cert was nowhere near full, there was am­ple space around us. I couldn’t see any health and safety con­cern.

I couldn’t see risk. I could only see my sis­ters and friends. The of­fi­cial could only see the wheel­chair. The the last thing you want to do in a sit­u­a­tion like that is to make a fuss. So my sis­ter and I fol­lowed the of­fi­cial into the lift and to our al­lo­cated seats, while the oth­ers stayed down­stairs.

We felt con­fined. Sep­a­rate. This may be ac­ces­si­bil­ity, but it’s not in­clu­sion or equal­ity.

How has so­ci­ety re­sponded to seg­re­gated seat­ing in the past? In re­la­tion to gen­der, race, sex­u­al­ity? We are all equal.

Many sports and en­ter­tain­ment venues con­tinue to of­fer tick­ets for wheel­chair users and their “carer” or “as­sis­tant”. Go­ing to matches and con­certs is about spend­ing time with friends and fam­ily. Hav­ing a good time. For­get­ting about prob­lems and im­pair­ments. It’s about be­ing a spec­ta­tor among the spec­ta­tors. I see my­self as one of my five friends, one of my fam­ily. I see 80,000 dif­fer­ently abled peo­ple, but equal.

How­ever, as long as my ticket pro­vides for my carer or as­sis­tant, it’s clear that so­ci­ety still sees my im­pair­ment. My dis­abil­ity.

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