Friday 17 January 2020

The 'parking tag fairy' sings friendly warning to motorists

Comedian Therese Cahill and filmmaker Don Rorke to make a short film based on Therese's song 'Disrespectabled', writes Mary Fogarty

Therese Cahill.
Therese Cahill.

Comedian and campaigner Therese Cahill is sprinkling a little fairy dust on a serious issue, with her song 'Disrespectabled', in which she encourages motorists not to park in spaces reserved for people with a disability.

Therese is collaborating with award-winning filmmaker Don Rorke from Salty Pepper Productions to make a short film based on the song, to raise awareness as to the detrimental impact the abuse of disabled parking spaces has on those who depend on them. Both of the artists live in Bray.

'I myself am disabled - I'm a chronic pain sufferer who is morphine dependent and also hold a disabled parking tag. Many disabled drivers and their carers (myself included) have been verbally abused for simply asking people not to use them which creates a reluctance to challenge those who abuse these spaces. I wrote this song back in early 2018,' said Therese. 'I'm disabled myself and I use a wheelchair and/or mobility scooter. Sometimes this would happen to me or other people I've spoken to who are disabled, they would go to a disabled spot and it would be taken. It's probably worth pointing out that there are some disabilities that are non visible.'

When she wrote the song, which is to the tune of 'Teddy Bears Picnic', Therese was very careful to highlight that not every disability involves a wheelchair or a walking stick.

'What I want to highlight is that there had better be a disabled tag visible in your car, and beyond that it's none of my business.'

There is a thorough process involved with the issuing of the tags, which do not get distributed for no reason. The possession of one also comes with responsibilities. As Therese and her husband share a car, she keeps the tag in her bag as it's only meant for her use.

She also wants to play a part in getting it into the collective psyche that it's unacceptable to park in those spaces without the tag.

'I heard a woman on Joe Duffy who had a tag for her daughter. A young person had verbally abused her for having the audacity to say please don't park there.

'Quite often, disabled people are expected to police these things. I have a big mouth, I know I do. There's a certain feeling of vulnerability though.

'I was disabled late in life. Don't get me wrong, I was never a street fighter, but I never went around with this feeling of vulnerability when you've lost a certain part of your vitality or movement or swiftness. People can fear saying something. You're worried that someone could become verbally or physically abusive.

'In a world set up for able bodied people, there are things you don't have to think about. When you're disabled you do, and you have to plan your day very carefully,' Therese explained.

She put the song on her YouTube channel after writing it but always wanted to make a video or film. She contacted various organisations such as the Road Safety Authority.

'I was just not getting anywhere. I was knocking on doors saying please, looking for funding. The vision that I had was that it would be a campaign.

'I'm a stand-up comic and an activist. Ninety per cent of my stuff is comedy everyone can relate to, then there is my own experience. I don't expect someone able-bodied to view the world through the same eyes. It's a different frame of reference. For me, comedy is a way of bridging that gap, by creating that character rather than pointing the finger and saying you're wrong or you shouldn't do that. That creates a simpatico, an understanding of people.'

She recalls seeing a meme online. It was the wheelchair logo with the slogan 'this is the only time you want to take my place'.

'That really resonated with me,' said Therese. 'Because sometimes people will say to me when they find out I have the tag "oh, you're so lucky having that", or that I'm lucky to have the scooter. Yeah, but I'd rather not need it.'

Therese has two types of depression - PTSD and Adjustment Depressive Disorder, which can be caused by a life altering injury.

'Every day is a battle to be positive and focus on and put my energy into what I love. If you already have mental health problems, and have to plan your day so meticulously, when you feel compelled to keep quiet about something, that has another crushing blow to your mental health,' she said. 'That's where the song comes in.'

Don Rorke brought the idea of creating the character 'the parking tag fairy' who is the protector of all disabled parking spcaces.

'We're not trying to encourage people to put photos on social media, but she will!' said Therese. 'And that's really going to put a dent in your day.'

The responsibility for monitoring the spaces then moves to the parking tag fairy.

Therese had worked with Don on the film 'Let Your Colours Run Free' about Transgreystones and the wider trans community

'He advised me that there is funding available through the Wicklow Arts Office. He has been absolutely invaluable,' she said. 'It will take about two months before we find out if its successful but we have lots of ideas on how to raise the money if we're not.

'Ultimately, we want it to be an earworm - like the green cross code! We want it to speak up using music, song and comedy, for those who feel dis-empowered in a world already set up for able bodied people.'

Bray People