Locked Down, But Won’t Be Locked Up!

Locked Down, But Won’t Be Locked Up!

Sarah Fitzgerald

Over the years, few things have been more off-putting than the prospect of a Skype conversation. I hate Skype. As someone with a speech impairment, I have always found communication easier face-to-face, to the extent where I would rather travel to Dublin or Galway for the sake of an hour long meeting than try and make my voice heard through a screen. It’s just something that’s never agreed with me.

At the beginning of March, I travelled to Dublin for a two-hour Board meeting. I’m honoured to be serving as secretary for Independent Living Movement Ireland. By the time our next scheduled Board meeting took place, it was mid-April and the entire country was on lockdown. There were still things to do though, issues to discuss. Decisions to be made and banter to be had.

Since the time that I was privileged to be co-opted onto the Board of Independent Living Movement Ireland in 2018, we as an organisation have been talking about returning to our grassroots, meaning that we continue to grow as an organisation of disabled people as opposed to an organisation that purports to represent our “best interests” but does not allow us as the experts to have any meaningful input into its agenda. Over the last three years, I feel like I have found a place that I can call home. A safe place that I have always searched for but until a few years ago, have never found. A place where you don’t give a second thought to how much you identify with the “disabled” label, but where you are most comfortable identifying as “yourself”.

And in this space, I always feel accepted. I’m not self-conscious about my views or my impairment, because I know I will be among like-minded people. However, as a movement, we are not a homogenous group. We bring to the table different experiences from which our individual perspectives are shaped. Some people in this collective are new recruits, perhaps people who, like me, were led to believe for too long that we, not society, were the ones in need of being “fixed”. Others are people who paved the way for myself and many others to enjoy a place in the mainstream world that perhaps they themselves were excluded from.

When Covid19 began to bring about “the new normal” back in March, I have to be honest and say that I did not expect ILMI’s Zoom interactions to harness the energy and enthusiasm that I have been a part of for the last three months. These “zooms” are now the highlight of my week, a place where I can kick off my metaphorical shoes and feel at home, where I feel like a valued member of a community which is based on activism and the pursual of rights. Over the last few weeks, there have been some newcomers in addition to the familiar faces and to me it feels like they have always been there, and I feel excited by the prospect of us all coming together to have our voices heard.

I would like to thank all of the staff team of ILMI who are working harder than ever to ensure that we as disabled people have an opportunity to have our voices heard. Ultimately, however, ILMI as an organisation can only play a small role in the grander scheme of things. We are the disability movement and we must not forget that we as a collective must never become complacent in vocalising our issues and having our voices heard. If we truly want our human rights, then we are the only ones who can make that happen.  We have proven to be willing to educate and learn from each other, and we now recognise that the individual daily battles that we face are not ours alone.

When I find it hard to sleep at night, my mind wanders to the future and what we face as a collective.. Specifically, I wonder about the future of the Personal Assistant Service in Ireland. Will there be savage cutbacks in the future, more savage than the ones that came before? Will all the work of the last thirty years become undone to the extent where we will have to start from scratch? I don’t know the answers, but I’m becoming increasingly confident that we will handle whatever the future throws at us, as a collective which will be stronger than ever.

ILMI are offering a range of peer support spaces which are open to anyone who wishes to join us. For more information, please contact info@ilmi.ie

Sarah Fitzgerald is a disabled activist, writer and blogger and secretary of ILMI. Her blog can be accessed on wobblyyummymummy.com