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Disabled people have opinions too!

Political Disability

No it's not some "Blairite jargon" for the current political 'Troubles' in Ulster.  I'm talking about the relationship between politics and people with disability in Northern Ireland.  From my perspective and for many others it appears that there is no relationship between people with disability and politics in Ulster, apart from the political terror that left many innocent civilians with disabilities.  For many able-bodied people it is easy to forget about the struggle faced by disabled people in the politics of daily life, no not Northern Ireland party politics, the politics of going down the street; crossing the street or entering buildings.

 Streets and buildings have usually been the enemy of Ulster's silent minority of disabled people, not because we hate streets or buildings, but because they seem to hate us.  Kerb height and lack of access, although simple, have caused disabled people no end of hassle and trouble and have done so for more than 35 years.  Trying to do the most simple things has often required the utmost effort and struggle for people with disabilities, going to the shop, the toilet (Public), the cinema or anywhere else you can possibly imagine.  Imagine needing milk for instance, you have to go 300yds down the road to the Shawp", yet when you get outside you have to climb down a mountain (Footpath), over a motorway (Road) and across only to be faced with another mountain (Footpath).  So you just decide to move down the side of the road, as close to the kerb as possible, until you reach a lower hill to climb or your destination; yet once there the journey awaits you again? Well I can tell you it isn't as easy as it sounds!!!  Often the struggle is not worth the effort to many but the "Bravest few", who are determined to succeed by any means.

 How many people can actually develop a sense of security about going out by themselves in such a society?  Well the answer is, very few!  It is not very common to see many disabled people out by themselves without needing assistance, not because they're untrustworthy or incompetent but because of the hassle and obstacles of the journey.  For the few disabled people who are independent and self-sufficiently mobile i.e. with a car, they have other obstacles to tackle, the disabled space invaders!  You know the people, 'I'll only be a minute', 'So what? Not my problem', etc, etc.  Those who 'Steal' the spaces allocated to those with 'Orange badges' (Disabled that is...) have no regard for the struggle faced by disabled folks, not only to find a space, but to gain access to be able to get out of their cars (If they're alone) which only the disabled space allows.  Can they stop in the middle of nowhere to go into wherever it is they're going? 

Well I think everyone knows the answer to that!  It isn't so much that the spaces are taken, although given that is the issue, but the fact is that people fail to think and portray themselves as uncaring!  Thus we have the root of  most of the problems facing disabled people, not only in Northern Ireland, but  right across the UK if not the world!  The lack of thought of able-bodied  persons, not those who can't possibly know the everyday issues of disabled people, but those who ignore it when they do.  The space invaders for instance  can't fail to notice a disabled allocated space when they see one!

But don't worry all you disabled-space hoggers out there, you’re well represented in government!  John Prescott, the Westminster amateur boxing champion, is also guilty of being a 'Space invader'. 

John Prescott's Jaguar caused a stir outside a Chinese restaurant by blocking a disabled parking. Worse still for the deputy prime minister, he was asked to move the car by a campaigner for the disabled who said he had been forced to struggle 40 yards to get to his destination because he had been unable to park."

 Mr Baggley heard that Mr Prescott was in the restaurant and put two and two together."I went up to the table and politely asked Prescott if it was his car parked outside," said Mr Baggley. "He simply said 'yes it is'. I asked him if he had an orange badge and he gave no answer but said `Do you want me to move it?' "I said yes and he got up and moved it to one of the many free places. "The car was clearly in the disabled space - it's not fair." 

The relationship between disabled people and government has not been smooth, and indeed it often feels as though we are totally ignored or worse still not thought-of at all!  People with disability in Northern Ireland have had trouble even before "President Blair" came along, with trying to vote.  Not because we have not registered, had to suffer the postponement of  elections, but for the simple reason of not being able to access the 'Polling Station' which is usually placed in a 90 year old old-School house or an out-of-date 'Community centre'.

It seems also that the electoral authorities in Northern Ireland are only to willing to attack the disabled peoples right to vote, especially if you have a mental-disability, in which case the local authorities consider you  either a "Lunatic" or an "Idiot".  Which is exactly the reason why one Downs Syndrome woman was refused the right to vote!  It seems in the campaign to end democratic politics in Northern Ireland, that nobody is safe, and that no legislation is too old, 120-years old to be precise. 

Officials in Northern Ireland apparently refused to let a woman with Down's syndrome register to vote because of a rule barring "idiots and lunatics. According to a fact sheet produced by the Electoral Commission anyone with mental disabilities cannot vote at a general election, under common law, if they are incapable of making a reasoned judgment on polling day. The guidelines then further clarifies this with the words  “idiots” and “lunatics”.  No one from the Commission’s offices in Belfast was available for comment.  But it is understood the body regards the wording used in 120-year-old legislation as inappropriate. Senior officials are believed to favour allowing as many people to vote as possible. A guide produced for electoral administrators says people with mental disorders - but not living in a mental hospital or special establishment - can be included in the register.  It adds: “The eligibility of someone who has a profound disability might, however, in certain cases be called into question because under the common law so-called ‘idiots’ cannot vote. So-called ‘lunatics’ on the other hand can vote, though only in their lucid intervals, and so could not be excluded from the register on this ground.

 “This is way out of line to refer to anyone with mental health difficulties in this way.” SDLP representative Patsy McGlone said: “It’s incredible that something so insulting to these people and their families should appear.” Mr McGlone said: “Even if this is antiquated legislation, it’s not acceptable.”

I'm not the SDLP's biggest fan, but Mr McGlone gets no argument from me on this point.  I wonder, if the 'Antiquated legislation' was put into full action, how many 'Registered' Northern Ireland voters would be left to vote?

 Not only are the Electoral Authorities able to deny people with disabilities the right to vote, but fellow voters themselves can also deny those with mental-disabilities, or indeed anyone, the right to vote by complaining about their being included on the electoral register. This did happen to another Downs Syndrome Man not so long ago, who was refused, for the first time  in many years the right to vote due to someone complaining about his inclusion on the Electoral Register.  I'm not sure if providing people with the ability to see an electoral register, to decide if someone they don’t know should be allowed the right to vote or not, is really very democratic?   But then again is Northern Ireland really that democratic?

Disabled issues aren't all that different from those of able-bodied people, at least when it comes to voting in NI, we have the same obstacles in  terms of reregistering every election time, including the other difficulties.   Of course the government are 'Bringing in' new legislation this year to make 'Life easier' for disabled people, no doubt in the year 2030 or  something.

Of course we aren't looking for a 'Quick fix solution' to disabled problems in Northern Ireland or the UK, what we're really asking for is for some thought and courtesy to be extended to disabled people, which would go  a long way to alleviating the hassle of day-to-day living with a disability.  We don't care about sorting out the 'Big issues' over night, but it's the simple issues that cause the most problems.  Footpaths, buildings, toilets and disabled spaces, not necessarily in that order, are the many simple problems that cause those with disabilities the most difficulty.

Political parties in Northern Ireland have no significant disability ideas in their 'Manifestos', if they have any at all that is, which doesn't mean that even if they did it would be helpful or be a real solution but it would perhaps go a bit of way to showing that they aren't completely ignorant of people with disabilities, who have various political opinions too you know!  What good does it do say a DUP supporter who is disabled, if  say Sinn Féin were the only political party with disability issues addressed in their manifesto and vice versa, does it mean sacrificing your principles for the sake of an easy life?

We don't want to be the centre of attention and have only our issues addressed, but not being forgotten about, by those especially with political 'Power', would be better than nothing. 

Disabled people have opinions too!

Craig, Co. Armagh.


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