Just one week ago Paralympic champion Ellen Keane posted on social media for International Day of Persons with a Disability, posing the simple question as to what could be done to improve everyday life for disabled people.
The response overwhelmingly suggested that just the mere flagging of an accessibility status would “give people some dignity” and “make Ireland a better place to live for everybody”, inciting many businesses to place the wheelchair emoji ♿️ on their online platforms to showcase their availability of ramps, lifts and general facilities for wheelchair users.
For International Day of persons with disability I asked my Instagram followers a simple question.
“ what is one thing a person/business could change/do better for disabled people?”
this was one of the most common answers. pic.twitter.com/bJ4trCP9t6
— Ellen Keane 💜 (@keane_ellen) December 6, 2021
The SB8 100m breaststroke champion is not a wheelchair user herself, but often utilises her online social media presence to raise awareness on the topic of disability and insists that “one small change at a time will make a huge difference in a lot of people’s lives.” “One of my friends is a wheelchair user. We’ve experienced things where we haven’t been able to go places because they are not accessible, or if we are planning a night out I always nearly panic because I’m like ‘where can we go that you can actually get in’” the 26-year-old reflects. “I wouldn’t know and I wouldn’t know how to find out.” “Whenever someone with a disability is planning a night out or planning to go out for food they always have to call in advance. Imagine then you’re a teenager and you’re going out for the first time and you’ve to call to ask can you access a building or just use a toilet, and that can be so embarrassing.”
— Ellen Keane 💜 (@keane_ellen) December 7, 2021
“You’ve to find out yes or no and then if you get told no you’ve to let your friends down and say well ‘no we can’t go there because I can’t get in’ and its more so wanting to kind of nearly shame places that don’t have the wheelchair and make them aware that they are excluding people” she adds.
According to the World Health Organisation, 15% of the world’s population experience some form of disability, 600,000 of whom reside in Ireland alone, and so the Clontarf native insists “it shouldn’t be an afterthought” that their needs are met.
“We are just trying to make people with disabilities part of the conversation because they never are” she says.
“It should always be ‘and’, rather than, ‘oh yeah, those guys,’ because over half a million people in Ireland have a disability and we’re quite a small population.
“I really feel like if we can crack it here we can make such a difference and be a leading example for Europe.”
As Keane lines out, such barriers are ever present in the daily lives’ of a large proportion of the country and inhibit their actions regularly.
“We’ve all lived with restrictions the past year and so we all know what it feels like to be restricted. That is exactly how people with disabilities feel every single day of their lives” she says.
“That’s because of the way society has been built, but it doesn’t have to be like that, it’s a choice.”
“It’s not even us trying to be aggressive about it, it’s an education thing, it’s opening people’s eyes and making them realise, because if I wasn’t involved in Para sport I’d probably be just as ignorant as everyone else and it’s through no fault of my own its just the exposure.”
“We’re just trying to expose it and people with disabilities so that it becomes more of an everyday conversation.”
The theme for this year’s International Day of Persons with a Disability being “leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world”, there is no doubt the Tokyo gold medallist is triumphing on that front as she continues to encourage businesses, venues and companies to follow suit.
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