Above: Disability and I co-founders Niamh Herbert and Laura Beston. Photo credit: Disability and I.
Eithne Dodd spoke to Niamh Herbert, founder of ‘Disability and I’ about their aims and how students with disability should be treated in college.
IRELAND is the only country in the European Union that has not ratified the UN Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). This is in spite of having over ten years in which to do it. If Ireland has not even ratified disability rights, how do we treat Irish students with disabilities?
Niamh Herbert, a first year student of Trinity, has friedreich ataxia, a progressive neuromuscular disease which takes away Herbert’s balance and coordination amongst other things. She, along with friend Laura Beston, founded a charity called ‘Disability and I’.
“I’ve always been very interested in disability rights” said Herbert “but I never really had the platform to do much before coming to college in Dublin”.
“Laura and I both suffer from different disabilities, and we felt very hopeless and underrepresented in regards to our disabilities. We both a have a personal insight into the treatment of disabilities and the people with disabilities here in Ireland.”
Herbert and Beston organised a march outside the Dáil to protest Ireland’s non-ratification of the CRPD in January. “I was overwhelmed by the support that was shown by my friends, family and other disability rights groups here in Ireland” said Herbert.
“I’ve only recently started speaking about my illness” said Herbert, “not because I’m fully comfortable with it, but advocating on my own behalf has become a necessity”.
“I’ve only recently started speaking about my illness” said Herbert “not because I’m fully comfortable with it, but advocating on my own behalf has become a necessity.”
Very few UCD students (less than ten) attended the protest. UCD Students’ Union Disability Rights Coordinator Lucy Doyle said “this was down to the fact that Trinity were back at college the week of the protest whereas UCD Students were still on Christmas break.”
While the protest was sparsely attended by UCD students, Doyle and UCDSU Campaigns and Communications officer; Luke Fitzpatrick have created ties with Martin Grant of Rehab.ie and Joanne O’Riordan from No Limbs no Limits to promote the ratification of CRPD in Ireland.
The ultimate goal of Disability and I is to produce a documentary of the plight of those who suffer from disabilities in the majority world. Herbert says, she will begin my working to make her university a more inclusive place for students with disabilities. “I think that creating a knowledgeable and inclusive society is vital” she said.
Treatment in University
Speaking about her university’s (Trinity College Dublin) treatment of her disability, Herbert still feels she has work to do. “I hate to say it, but I haven’t been supported very well by the Disability Service in Trinity. I really hope that’ll change soon! I’m above naming and shaming, but they know well that they failed me on many occasions.”
“In college when people say mean or weird things to me, I know they don’t mean to upset me, they just don’t know how to treat the situation. That’s not their fault though. I think the media plays a big role in the respect that disability is just not spoken about in any other situation other than how it’s such a terrible thing to have, or go through.”
“In my experience, students are so willing to help and support their friends in any way that they can, but unfortunately there is only so much that students can do. The people in charge often seem to lack this empathy” said Herbert.
“I think that creating a knowledgeable and inclusive society is vital, and the key to this is awareness campaigns. It doesn’t cost much to start the conversation about disability.”
In UCD however, things do not seem as bad. Doyle and Fitzpatrick are running several campaigns for students with disabilities. Doyle praised UCD Estate Services’ help for people with physical disabilities and over the summer, Fitzpatrick worked to get her onto a committee with the University. Doyle sits on the Disability Sub-Group of the Equality, Diversity and inclusion division of the UCD University Management Team, a sub-group of a sub-group which Doyle says is “slowly taking shape”.
“In my personal opinion the difficulty here lies in the fact that there are so many different types of disabilities and those students with disabilities do not always want to be singled out. They want to be seen as regular students, which they are” she said.
In Trinity, ‘Disability and I’ are working on making the campus more aware of people with disabilities. On the 14th of March, they’re holding a fundraiser in which 15 students will be wheelchair bound for 24 hours.
“I think that creating a knowledgeable and inclusive society is vital, and the key to this is awareness campaigns. It doesn’t cost much to start the conversation about disability” Herbert said.
In UCD, Doyle agrees completely. “I think a big thing for students with disability is being aware” she said. “It can be hard to see sometimes but students with disabilities often have to work a lot harder to keep up with what we can do naturally.”