Life in Ireland with a disability
This year's St. Patricks Day celebrations see the Irish government scurrying around the world on a mass PR mission after several years of very bad press as the banks went bust after lending money to property developers and individuals like it was growing on trees. (The simple version of what happened to the Irish Economy - believe me you don't want to read the long one.)
Disabled people did not prosper during the Irish boomtime, dubbed the Celtic Tiger, but we have been badly hit by recent austerity measures.
Any legislation passed about assessing the needs of people with disabilities was one of the first things to be halted as the economy went belly up. Now recent attitudinal surveys show that support and empathy for people with disabilities is deteriorating. We are increasingly seen as a further drain on society which makes a change from the "ah god love them" perspective, I suppose.
There are no rights-based measures in place for people to receive support to live independently. Personal budgets are to happen by 2016. Personal Assistants (PAs) are considered a luxury and the few that have PA services are often told that they have too much support. Many people with disabilities are still living in congregated settings or at home with families; there is little chance of this changing any time soon.
All this is happening without any independent disability movement; the campaigning groups have been sucked up by charities and service providers and now help to deliver services on behalf of the government.
But come and visit us, we need tourists! See I am on message this March 17!
Suzy Byrne has dyspraxia. She keeps a blog at mamanpoulet.com and works as an advocate at the National Advocacy Service for people with disabilities.
When asked to comment on life for people with disabilities in Ireland today, my first thoughts were around employment.
I was made redundant from my job in manufacturing, along with thousands of others in my locality, when Dell Computers moved their Irish element to Poland.
Long term unemployment amongst people with disabilities in this country currently stands at 70 percent.
With this in mind, and faced with the prospect of becoming a visually impaired jobseeker alongside 2000 equally qualified non-disabled peers, I was forced to rethink my future.
I'm now studying journalism but continue to keep abreast of the employment situation for disabled people in Ireland and find myself campaigning about discrimination in this area.
There was some recent press atttention around The Irish Wheelchair Association who have opportunities for people seeking work experience in these hard times, however, if you are disabled, then ironically you can't apply as these positions are only available through the government's National Internship Scheme, JobBridge. This scheme is similar to the UK's Workfare, except the state pays an additional €50 on top of dole payments. If you receive a disability allowance or any other additional benefit - one parent family allowance for example - the scheme is closed to you.
Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, has promised to make the scheme accessible to people with disabilities; we have yet to hear back from her on this. Reportedly, 60 per cent of the 5,000 internships have already been filled.
There are other government schemes in place for disabled employees. The Workplace Adaptation Grant, similar to Access to Work in the UK, helps disabled people working in the private sector with equipment and property adaptations. The Government is planning the introduction of a cost of disability type allowance, also specifically catering for those already in employment.
But the hardest part is getting one's foot in the door, made no easier by the exclusion of disabled people from schemes like JobBridge.
Francis Dunne is visually impaired. He is a prolific tweeter and can be found on Twitter @squidlimerick.
Living oblivious to my impairment until 1989 and then stubbornly disowning it until 2000, I fear my opinion of life with a disability in Ireland mightn't be the most balanced!
Though things have improved through the decades I can't believe that in 2012 Ireland has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, that the recent National Disability Authority report quoted approximately a 10 percent reduction of awareness of people with disabilities since 2006 and that the government is considering the reduction of carer hours.
Like many who acquire a disability, I never understood or knew the barriers and obstacles that exist for economic empowerment or self determination until I accepted my own. I had never witnessed the passive and active discrimination that exists. So it was when I ungracefully tumbled out of the disability closet at the beginning of the 21st century that I discovered a reality I did not like or accept.
For me, living with a disability has not just become part of my person, it has become much of my life.
In 2000 I became a social entrepreneur, and am the founder of an organisation called Kanchi. We work to change thinking on disability in Ireland and around the world, through the Disability Business Case. We do this by influencing business and media in the belief that if business behaviours change, society will follow.
The framing of disability through a charity lens loaded with sympathy and pity has to change for inclusion to happen. We should be valued as people first, as consumers, members of our community, talent, and suppliers. We believe inclusive business means an inclusive society and, for much of the last decade, Kanchi has worked to achieve this.
I often wonder whether in my lifetime the word "everyone" will really mean "everyone". But before the dawning of the 21st century, I never even considered posing that question.
Now I like to regularly challenge both myself and those we work with: do you really need to have a disability before you think of asking that question?
Wishing Irish people all over the world a happy and inclusive St. Patrick's Day.