Ireland’s only female Davos delegate Sinéad Burke says social media gave her a voice

Sinead Burke: Buildings and infrastructure are designed only for fully able-bodied people. Picture: Instagram

Ireland’s only female delegate to attend Davos has praised the internet for giving her a voice.

Sinéad Burke, who was born with achondroplasia — the most common form of dwarfism — is well-known for her activism work in the area of disability, fashion and design.

Last March she gave a TED talk about designing a physically more inclusive world which, to date, has been viewed more than 1.2m times. It was on the back of this that she was asked to speak at Davos and yesterday she took part in a session called Fostering Inclusivity.

The session had been discussing the “echo chamber” effect of social media where similar messages reverberate around an audience with similar values, causing a situation where there is often little room for dissent, nuance or debate.

However, Ms Burke said that despite this, the internet and social media has empowered her. She pointed out that in the real world she felt left out because of how buildings and infrastructure are designed for fully able-bodied people, but the internet allowed her to be heard.

“Without the power of social media giving me a platform, through that echo chamber, would anyone have listened to me?” she said.

In 12 months, her online writings have led her to meet with editors at the world’s largest fashion magazines as well as sharing stages with people like former US Vice President Joe Biden and working with Burberry, who dressed her Davos.

“These are doors have just not been knocked before, without the internet would they have been able to be knocked? I don’t think so,” said Ms Burke of her experiences in 2017.

The 27-year-old explained how it has not been her genetic condition that has most affected her, but how the world has been built with only one person in mind.

“So much of my challenges were not because of a [genetic] mutation but caused by lack of creative thinking by those in power,” she said.

Ms Burke also described how fashion “matters”. She is often limited to childrenswear, both in clothing and footwear: “I was given runners that light up — which are wonderful but they’re not suitable for the stage at Davos. Those in privilege need to hear from those with lived experience”

Ms Burke will speak three more times at Davos and has been sharing her experiences through photographs on her Twitter and Instagram accounts.


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