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‘Does s/he take sugar?’ syndrome

As a disabled person I have faced many obstacles in Irish society and discrimination has raised its head from time-to-time.

There has been major problems, such as access to public buildings, difficulties in access to social activities and even access to polling stations, which is your basic right to be able to vote in a so-called democratic society. Even when disabled toilets are available in restaurants, pubs, and hotels, proprietors use them as broom cupboards.

My newly married wife and I had just recently moved back to Ireland in 1992. One morning we decided to take a trip to the local town to do some shopping. We entered a boutique where my wife made her way through the rows of countless dresses.

I, of course, was dragged in to give my expert opinion on what looked good and what didn’t, a task every man hates. But out of the corner of my eye a lady quickly approached us from one of the long extended rows of dresses,

“Hi”, a lady said to my wife, “how are you?”. It was one of her old school chums.

“‘I heard you got married in England. Congratulations.” My wife thanked her and was about to introduce me, as I sat there in my wheelchair smiling up at this tall lady. The lady glanced down at me and then looked back up at my wife and asked, “What’s his name?”

I looked up at her and said, “Why don’t you ask me, I don’t bite.” With that she got the hint made her hurried excuses and left.

Yes the “Does s/he take sugar syndrome?” raised its ugly head. That condition which renders able-bodied people unable to speak directly to people with disability.

I am not saying this condition is unique to Ireland but I have experienced it more in Ireland than anywhere else.

Twenty years previously, I acquired my disability in the early ’80s due to an illness, which had made me totally wheelchair dependent.

I made my way to Ireland on holiday with my parents in a car that had been adapted with hand controls so I could drive it, as I was totally paralysed from the waist down. I had spent many years before in Ireland as a healthy young child playing in the fields around my uncle’s farm and, to be honest, I was not aware of disability in any form. But coming back to Ireland in a wheelchair after my diagnosis at the age of 21 was an eye opener.

I took my parents out for a meal to a nice hotel in the country. My parents made their way into the hotel as I locked the car, and then proceeded to follow them, but at the entrance of the hotel one of the hotel staff, a young man, grabbed the back of my chair and said, ‘’You are going the wrong way, the rest of your friends are heading to the function room.’’


With that he tried to push my wheelchair in the direction of the function room, I had lost my temper by thisstage and grabbed the two wheels of my wheelchair and swung around to face him.

I also saw over his shoulder a wheelchair adapted bus that had pulled up across the car park of the hotel, and there was other wheelchair users being assisted off it. I tried to explain to this young man that I was not with this group but he seemed to ignore me and tried again to steer me in the direction of the function room.

With all the commotion my parents came back out to the entrance of the hotel and only then did he listen as they explained that I was not with the group from the bus. To add insult to injury he apologised to my parents and not to me. Education on disability was very much lacking back then in 1980s Ireland.

A majority of people are now suffering in Ireland due to these imposed austerity measures. In 2013, which is nearly 30 years since I was here with my parents, disabled rights are now worse than ever.

Disabled people have been targeted more than any other groups; civil and social and human rights are being eroded again by this Government. Disabled people are high on the agenda for cuts in benefits, resources and medical care.

Maybe next on the list is to bring in euthanasia. I am sure deep in the mind of these politicians it would save a few bob to get rid of some of the weaker in society. I think another group had the same idea not so long ago.

I am calling on disabled people to get involved write to the group mentioned below and tell your story on how austerity is affecting you. It’s time to take to the streets in force.

By the way, I don’t take sugar.

Conor O’Sullivan is a member of Red Ink Socialist Republican Writers’ Group; redinkwriters@hotmail.com.

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