independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Brendan O'Connor: My child isn't as important as yours

There was a lot of backslapping about the Special Olympics during the week. It was 10 years ago that the games were held in Ireland and, in fairness, it was a marvellous event. But to read the supplements and look-backs during the week you would imagine that it changed everything forever in this country, ridding us of all prejudices against people with intellectual disabilities.

And while there is no doubt that the Special Olympics is a fantastic organisation, all the self congratulation might have been a little bit hard to take for the parents of children with special needs this week of all weeks. You see, it's all very well that we put Special Olympics athletes up on pedestals and go on about what great athletes they are, and what champions they are.

In a way it is easy to do that. In a way it can even be a little bit condescending to do that. Because it is easy to be sentimental about people with intellectual disabilities. Aren't they great? And so loving?

I'm sure my little girl will be involved in Special Olympics some day if she is lucky. I'm sure she'll get a lot out of it. But you know what? I don't care if she is a champion. I'd just like her to be able to go to school.

But my little girl isn't as important as yours. She doesn't matter as much as yours. And she does not have the same rights as yours. In the eyes of the Government she is less than a person.

A huge part of the energy of mothers all over Ireland every day goes into trying to convince themselves that they and their disabled children are not set apart, that it's not a 'them and us' situation.

And yet again this week it was hammered home to all those mothers by Ruairi Quinn and the Labour Party that actually it is them and us, that they are set apart, that they and their children don't matter as much, that their children have no rights.

Imagine if there was a specific pot of money for the dole no matter how many people needed it. So the hundreds of thousands of extra people who went on the dole over the last few years had to share that pot with the ones already on it. So everyone's dole has to be cut by a quarter.

Of course that wouldn't happen. Because people on the dole have rights. But the resources available to educate children who need extra help have been effectively cut in this manner. On top of all the other cuts borne by the disabled. Because they don't have rights as such. They are just charity cases.

Those who do go to school will get 25 per cent less resource teaching and support. Many will flounder in education because of these cuts and will not cope. Some kids, it is emerging, won't be able to go to school anymore because of these cuts. It will be too dangerous or too difficult for them without the support of their special needs assistant (SNA).

Sometimes you wonder if that is what the authorities want. Despite the lip service, in reality do they think we should just keep our kids at home, out of sight, away from the healthy ones, the ones who matter? Maybe we should lock them in the attic, and just let them out for the Special Olympics, where they can be champions, and everyone can feel good about themselves.

Is it any wonder that Labour's own TDs keep leaving because the Labour Party now disgusts them?

Irish Independent

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