Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

‘Leaving Ireland reminded me of my blindness’

Stepping outside your comfort zone can be difficult when leaving home, and even harder with a disability, writes Amie Hynes Fitzpatrick

Amie Hynes Fitzpatrick: 'You would be surprised how much you can do and achieve when you refuse to accept a limit on your own potential.'

Mon, Jul 7, 2014, 14:41


Amie Hynes Fitzpatrick

I didn’t leave Ireland because of unemployment, but to see the world with my boyfriend. We were going to teach our way around Asia to kick-start the adventure. I handed in my notice to a phenomenal company, threw out half my wardrobe, packed my bags and headed east to Vietnam. But within six weeks I returned, in debt, blind and struggling with my mental health.

It was nothing as dramatic as an accident, or one single life changing moment that prompted this turning point in my life. It was simply a reminder of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities, difficulties for people like me, which still remain absent in general conversation.

I’ve always been blind. Diagnosed with Stargardts at the age of 11, my sight has been deteriorating to the extent that I am now left with no central vision and a fuzzy two-foot peripheral. Despite this however, my life has always been filled with possibility, and while two-foot vision doesn’t sound like a lot, you would be surprised how much you can do and achieve when you refuse to accept a limit on your own potential.

Unknowingly I found my own inclusive groove when I left college. A career, friends, a residence and a lifestyle which allowed me to be independent. My sight never interrupted my life, until I finally left my inclusive nook and found out what lay out there for people with disabilities.

Travel was a lifelong dream. I saved, planned and eventually plucked up the courage to do it. Little did I know that my once uncompromising determination in life wasn’t going to return home with me. During those brief six weeks I discovered that for the first time in my life, it wasn’t my fear of admitting I was disabled that posed problems. It was other people’s reaction to my vision that created the most crippling barriers I have ever faced.

I’ve spent my short life so far working in the disability sector trying to change how people with disabilities are included in society. I became so obsessed with the idea of inclusion that I forgot about the very real barriers that were out there. So, I headed east and it wasn’t long until I turned from an extrovert into an introvert, from an independent young lady into a shy scared girl.

Day by day and week by week, as I became increasingly accustomed to the tidy box people like to file disabled people into, my mental health, eyesight and relationship suffered. My obsession with inclusion had started to eat away at me as westerners and Asians alike consistently looked at me with pity and disregard.

So, I returned home. I feel broken having lost a simple dream, having lost my sense of who I am and what my purpose in life is. As I sit at home, it’s a struggle to get out of bed, not because I believe there are insurmountable barriers out there or because I’ve finally realised I am blind. The most unearthing insight is the realisation that the lack of awareness surrounding disability the world over is the biggest barrier of all. I feel compelled to change this; I just don’t know how to yet.

Disability isn’t limited to gender, race, ethnicity, religion or geographical location. People with disabilities make up a substantial proportion of our population and our voices should be included in this conversation.

Amie and her boyfriend in Go Vap, Ho Chi Minh City. Photograph: Rafael Acero Galfo