Sunday 4 December 2016

It's time we set people free from institutions

In his 50s, Martin Dooher learnt to do all the things that he was told all his life he couldn't do. Everyone deserves the same freedom, says Brendan O'Connor

Published 27/09/2015 | 02:30

A LIFE OF THEIR CHOOSING: Martin Naughton, of the Centre for Independent Living, protesting outside Government Buildings. Martin has devoted his life to trying to free people with disabilites from institutions
A LIFE OF THEIR CHOOSING: Martin Naughton, of the Centre for Independent Living, protesting outside Government Buildings. Martin has devoted his life to trying to free people with disabilites from institutions

Martin Dooher is from Ballina, Co Mayo, but he went to live in an institution in Cork when he was eight because his parents though t that was the best place for him. At 16 he moved to Galway to another institution, and then in his twenties he was moved into a group home. In all of these situations Martin was cut off from the community at large and lived in a group setting where he was not, by and large, allowed to make his own choices and he was not allowed to take any minor risks. He was told when he could take a shower, when to eat and when he could and couldn't make a cup of tea.

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Martin would have liked to have watched the football on a Saturday afternoon but he couldn't, because he had to go shopping with the others from the home. Martin didn't like it when they all went out together because people stared. They didn't see Martin so much as an individual, maybe, rather as just a person with a disability, out with a bunch of other people with disabilities. Set apart from everyone else by their togetherness.

Martin moved into his own apartment five years ago. In his fifties, for the first time, he learnt to be independent, even to take risks, while also learning to be safety-conscious. The transition wasn't easy, but Martin now does all the things he was always told he wasn't able to do.

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