A new grassroots organisation is seeking to change public perceptions of the disabled community through art and culture, beginning with a festival in July.
Disability Power Ireland (DPI) aims to “celebrate and connect the disabled community and normalise disability as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity” and “counteract social stigma and internalised shame”.
The group aims to run “radical” festivals and events that “challenge the standard medical, charity and tragedy models and representations of disability”. DPI is run entirely by disabled people and Ireland’s first Disability Pride and Power Festival takes place throughout July.
The group will host events online and offline including a theatre production, theatre workshop, dance performance (see case study below), comedy night and several panel discussions addressing disability rights.
The group envisions the annual festival during disability pride month “as a vehicle for change and flip the playbook on how disability is seen in Ireland”, said Catherine Gallagher, spokeswoman for the organisation.
“We’ve all grown up alongside the medical model of disability, but actually we’re demonstrating through art and culture that it’s a social and political issue.
"If we lived in a world that was fairer to us, and inherently kinder to us, there wouldn’t be a big stigma and fear around disability,” she said.
The volunteer group is self-funded and “completely penniless”, Ms Gallagher said, but hopes to apply for funding after demonstrating their success this summer. It hopes to have a disability pride parade in July next year.
“Being proud of being disabled means being proud of our community’s resilience and creativity in navigating obstacles and social barriers,” the group said in their manifesto.
“While we encourage disabled people to have high expectations for themselves and their lives, we see how social barriers and stigma make it harder for disabled people to accomplish their goals, and we seek to bolster the disability rights movement in removing these barriers to inclusion.”
Disabled people represent 10-15% of the population nationally yet remain underrepresented in all spheres of society, the group said.
Ms Gallagher received significant media attention last year after she campaigned for regulations to allow disabled students accept PhD scholarships and retain their disability allowance. Legislation was soon introduced and dubbed “Catherine’s Law”.
The organisation will hold an online launch on Friday evening at 7.30pm featuring disability activists Paddy Smyth, Eileen Daly, Emilie Conway, Sarah Fitzgerald, Gráinne Hallahan, Catherine Gallagher and DPI founder and chair Maryam Madani.
The Disability Pride and Power Festival will run from July 1 to 29 and information on their events is available on their website disabilitypride.ie.
“We want to show that if we can do this when we’ve got so many odds stacked against us, just imagine what we could do if we had our human rights realised.”
Those are the words of Leitrim woman Isolde Ó’Brolcháin Carmody. She’s an activist, dancer, poet, writer – and also happens to be a wheelchair user. That doesn’t hold her back from running a dance company though.
A founding member of Disability Power Ireland (DPI), she is seeking to unlock the “strong creative voice” within the disabled community in Ireland that has historically not been nurtured.
She’s in Roscommon at the moment rehearsing with Undercurrent Dance Company, a mixed ability and intergenerational group which include Ms Ó’Brolcháin Carmody and another wheelchair user. Their new show, Unearth: Close Contact, explores the human experience of touch and re-emergence and features wheelchair dancing.
Her passion is to instil confidence in people with disabilities to express themselves through art, something existing charities and disability service providers aren’t generally good at, she says.
“Particularly for those of us within the creative sector.
Ms Ó’Brolcháin Carmody helped set up this new grassroots organisation to achieve just that and inspire a new generation of artists with disabilities.
She has also worked with a disabled writer’s group since 2020 on developing a collection of work for publication this year.
“There’s a real variety of voices within there,” she said, “and its not that we have to write about disability, but that our experiences bring a particular perspective to the world that we create and I think that has a real artistic value.”
But creating art isn’t her only passion with DPI, she is keen to tackle the Government on unfulfilled obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, she said.