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People with disabilities find a media voice – now they need a chorus

THE Irish Examiner has again proved that its track record on coverage of disability issues surpasses that of any other newspaper in the country.

While many media outlets stay narrowly focused on the voyeuristic or what are called “human interest” stories, the Irish Examiner provides regular analyses of the policies, economics and socio-political aspects of the issue.

It is a great shame that more of our print and broadcast media do not do as much.

The disability lobby is 1.4 million strong – at a conservative estimate. This figure includes people with disability themselves, their families and carers. It is a huge constituency of people whose voting power has the potential to make a substantial impact on health and social care policy – to the benefit of everyone in our society.

Unfortunately, the unwieldy disability lobby is not yet nearly as coordinated in pursuing its interests as it could be. Compounding that problem is the fact that the lobby is also typically lacking in the sort of radicalism and assertiveness that are essential if it is to defeat government policy that is often downright vindictive and seldom much better than that. Far too much has been sacrificed on the altar of “maintaining dialogue” with politicians who actually do not care about this issue and who turn up at conferences only to do a classic hit and run: five-minute speech and out the door before a single question can be asked. “Trust me,” said one now very senior cabinet minister to one disability lobbyist before going off and doing the exact opposite of what he had promised him he would do.

Perhaps most perniciously of all, many agencies management groups have an over-representation of government placemen and women in critical positions and who hold those positions precisely to ensure that serious challenges to policy seldom make headway.

The media have a great role to play now especially with political parties already on early-days election footing. If newspapers like the Irish Examiner would make disability one of the central issues leading up to the poll it could make a very big difference to the lives of so many people.

It is also an iconic issue for the country at a time of great economic difficulty; it could define the standard and ethos that are brought to bear on how we repair the damage done not just for those with disability, but for all who most need to be protected.

Please call each of the parties fully to account for their disability policies and let them know you will be following through on those promises when the election is over.

Politicians must be made to feel a much greater degree of accountability.

Your editorial (July 7) referred to an issue that had already struck people in the disability lobby: that the only way a backbench government revolt happens in Ireland is when licensing laws or the killing of dumb animals are to be restricted – or subsidies for gambling and horse racing are threatened.

When it came to passing disability legislation that the disability lobby vehemently opposed five years ago, not one of these same people was principled enough to defy the party whip, though every one of them would have had significant numbers of constituents who were suffering in various ways.

Opposition politicians were also exposed at the last general election as being more than willing to exploit the disability issue for electoral gain.

When pressed, not a single one of them was prepared to guarantee they would commit to enshrining enforceable rights for people with disabilities into their policies.

They were naturally full of the best of intentions and motives otherwise and made some truly impressive but ultimately meaningless speeches.

While there are many enthusiastic people doing superb work in pursuit of better services, it is still the case that far too many people are cowed and humiliated by official attitudes and are reluctant to challenge service providers and others for fear of losing what they have.

We need a media that loudly champions our cause and provides encouragement to speak out and speak up so that together we can develop a far more effective and assertive voice that insists on its rightful place in administrative policy and in funding allocation.

Miriam Cotton

Former National Co-ordinator

Disability Election Pledge Alliance

Woodlands

Clonakilty

Co Cork


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