Born to be Different

By Aine McDonnell

As the late great Nelson Mandela said “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity”. The human rights of many different groups of people has been a very prominent topic in the media in recent times. This has involved stories about many marginalised groups such as refugees, migrants and children. But there has been one topic in particular which impacts my life and the lives of thousands of other people with disabilities, this is the failure of the Government in Ireland to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Recently Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA), explorer Mark Pollock and a number of other prominent charities have united to urge the Government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Ireland signed the CPRD in 2007 but successive governments have not ratified this very important piece of legislation. This important piece of legislation sets out what countries have to do to make sure that disabled people have the same rights as everybody else.

The purpose of the Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities. People with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

The Convention is based on the principles of respect for dignity; non-discrimination; participation and inclusion; respect for difference; equality of opportunity; accessibility; equality between men and women; and respect for children. Countries who ratify the convention must take a range of measures, with the active involvement of people with disabilities, to ensure and promote the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities without discrimination of any kind.

All of the points in the Convention are fundamental rights that all sectors of society are entitled to, however although things have improved in the last few years there is so much more work to be done.  I have had personal experience of many of the issues and points listed in the convention. I have also experienced the discrimination and issues that can arise. I have had difficulty in accessing employment, issues with third level education and up until this year living independently in my own home and being included in the community.

People with disabilities have the right to access all aspects of society on an equal basis with others including the physical environment, transportation, information and communications, and other facilities and services provided to the public. This has been a major issue affecting people with disabilities in Ireland for many years particularly in rural areas of Ireland. There is still a lot to do in rural Ireland in terms of making the physical environment more accessible to people with disabilities. When the convention is ratified the government will be bound by this convention to ensure that there is accessibility for all its citizens no matter what part of the country they live in.

People with disabilities also have the right to take part in cultural life on an equal basis with others, including access to cultural materials, performances and services, and to recreational, leisure and sporting activities.  I always found this quite difficult as a person with a disability growing up in rural Ireland. There were very few opportunities for me to participate in recreation and leisure and sport. I had a huge interest in sport particularly athletics but I found it very difficult to access places where I could train and compete without travelling long distances.

Everyone is born to be different in their own unique ways and the uniqueness of each person should be celebrated and people should not be ostracised or made to feel different because of their own individual uniqueness.  I am a wheelchair user and have a visual impairment, my legs don’t work and I don’t see as well as my peers might, but I can still make a difference in my community and I use my unique talents to help the world that I live in to be a better place. I would encourage everyone to sign the petition to urge the Irish Government to ratify this vital piece of UN legislation and make a difference to the lives of the thousands of people in Ireland living with a disability. You can find the petition at: https://www.change.org/p/minister-for-disabilities-finian-mcgrath-td-ireland-ratify-the-un-convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities

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