Reilly should tackle reform not attack disability services
OPINION:I LISTENED to Michael McKillop on radio accepting his gold medal at the London Paralympics and was gripped. He spoke with eloquence as he stated that his medal owed much to the support of his mother, his family, his friends, his girlfriend and all those who supported him in his efforts over the years to get to London.
His sheer authenticity and his humility demonstrated what sport is about, but also what is possible if people are supported to achieve their dreams to be the people they want to be.
That same day, I joined another group of disabled people camped outside Government Buildings as a Cabinet meeting was taking place. Here too, the stakes were high. Instead of receiving medals they were losing something just as precious – their personal assistants, home helps and homecare packages.
People like John Roach, Leigh Gatt, Martin Naughton and countless others spoke with equal amounts of passion and eloquence as they described how personal assistance had supported and liberated them to do the most basic of human functions like getting out of bed, bathing or eating.
With this loss, they were acquiring instead futures of isolation as hospitals and residential homes loomed – places where choices are ultimately determined by others and dreams are snuffed out.
What a week to choose to kick disabled people in the teeth.
Minister for Health James Reilly has denied this subsequently. It was all a misunderstanding. But those who provide the services and more importantly those of us who depend on these supports would disagree.
It is also impossible to see where the savings would have been made by pushing already low-paid workers’ personal assistants and home help towards the dole, and forcing disabled and older people towards hospital and residential care. Costs to the exchequer would undoubtedly increase, on top of the denial of people’s liberty to choose how we want live to our lives.
And too many of us know what that is like. Many of those out on the streets overnight spent years as children and young adults in residential care. Others who acquired disabilities such as spinal injuries will know the trauma of lying far too long in hospitals or nursing homes – not because they are sick but because the supports they need to live independently in their home are not available.
The decision to ask for support is never easy. I leave it to the last possible moment or perhaps even later. It’s a question of pride and a skewed notion of what independence means. I somehow think that to be independent I must do everything on my own.