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Disabled people have overcome obstacles, but still have to fight for dignity and rights

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Census 2012 showed us that among people with disabilities aged 15 to 49, 16pc had completed no higher than primary level education, compared with 5pc of the general population. Photo: PA

Census 2012 showed us that among people with disabilities aged 15 to 49, 16pc had completed no higher than primary level education, compared with 5pc of the general population. Photo: PA

Census 2012 showed us that among people with disabilities aged 15 to 49, 16pc had completed no higher than primary level education, compared with 5pc of the general population. Photo: PA

Today is a day marked by frustration for people living with disabilities in Ireland. It marks the 10th anniversary since Ireland signed, but failed to ratify, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

This agreement was drawn up to recognise the rights of people with disabilities and to help us play a more active role in our own lives. Ireland's continued failure to ratify the treaty is an affront to people with disabilities here. We are now the last country in Europe to prioritise the rights of 600,000 Irish citizens living with disabilities.

The purpose of the convention is to "promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity".

At the age of 16, I had an accident at home which left me with a life-changing injury. I was working in the garden and went to jump off a wall and slipped. I went head-over-heels on the other side and landed on my head. My body came down and the force broke my neck and damaged my spinal cord. I have been using a wheelchair ever since.

That was in 2000. Seven years later, Ireland committed to implementing the UNCRPD. By that time, I had completed my Leaving Certificate and had spent time at University College Cork, and was beginning to consider finding work.

I was hesitant of seeking employment at first. I was confident of my intellectual ability, but I knew that were I to get a job, I would need to overcome barriers - the main one being obtaining assistance in order to complete some personal care and to assist me to carry out some work tasks, simple things such as passing me a book or signing a form.

In order to have a plan in place for any possible job offers, I began to search for workplace personal assistance. I was met with a wall of confusion. I contacted the Department of Health, who put me on to the Department of Jobs and Enterprise, who in turn referred me back to the Department of Health. Each department told me that they did not provide such a service.

It seemed ridiculous that the State assisted me on the road to preparing for employment, but at the moment I became ready to enter the workforce, the services I had used, and needed more than ever, seemed absent.

Article 27 of the UN Convention refers to work and employment, and mandates that State parties should "prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability with regard to all matters concerning all forms of employment, including conditions of recruitment, hiring and employment, continuance of employment, career advancement and safe and healthy working conditions". This was not my experience, nor that of many others.

Census 2012 showed us that among people with disabilities aged 15 to 49, 16pc had completed no higher than primary level education, compared with 5pc of the general population. Of 542,277 people aged 15 and over with a disability, just 20pc were in work.

I am one of the lucky ones. Through perseverance, I did find a job in 2009 as a research administrator for the public affairs department of the Rehab Group. I receive workplace assistance under a community employment scheme.

I have learned that my career goals and aspirations must remain limited. I work on a part-time basis, which means I am not highly paid. However, if I was to try to advance my career, I would most likely lose essential supports, such as my medical card. Despite my skills and abilities and everything I have overcome, I would be unlikely to acquire a job that would pay me sufficiently to cushion that incredibly important loss.

For me, one of the key roles of this convention is that it would remove the term "where feasible" from aspects of my life and replace it with "human rights". Were this convention ratified, it would mean the supports I have used to complete my education, to live independently and enter employment would be less under the whim of the government of the day. It also means that I would be properly recognised within the Treaties of the United Nations.

Since acquiring my disability, I have learned some things. I have learned I am not less equal. I have learned that I am not a burden. I've learned that I'm a capable member of society, able to contribute to an independent and good life of my own and of those around me.

It's time to implement this convention to acknowledge the rights of people with disabilities. Yesterday, I addressed public representatives, TDs and ministers on this subject at a briefing at Dáil Éireann. We will not give up until our rights are recognised.

Will you join us? Please contact your local representative or TD to express concern about the delay to ratification of the UNCRPD. You can also tweet with the hashtag #RatifyCRPD

Irish Independent