Dublin City Council’s #MakeWayDublin campaign is the first public initiative in well over a decade to highlight how the inconsiderate actions of others can impede access for people such as myself and others who use wheelchairs as well as people with other mobility and sensory disabilities. It is welcome and necessary. The use of the hashtag #MakeWayDublin to drive a social media campaign to call out members of the public who park their cars on pavements, fail to cut back hedges or leave wheelie bins in the way is a strong, empowering way of enabling people with disabilities to bring greater awareness to the challenges they face every day.
And the struggle is real. Those of us with mobility difficulties can never guarantee that our route will be clear. First, I have to plan a route that allows me to cross roads with dipped pavements and then I have to cross my fingers and hope that no one has blocked my journey. Spontaneity does not exist. When out with friends, it causes a huge problem which only serves to highlight my disability and my difference.
It is an issue and one that Dublin City Council and the former Lord Mayor, Councillor Brendan Carr should be commended for championing.
But not at any cost.
Raising awareness of accessibility shouldn’t compromise equality. Unfortunately, Dublin City Council’s advertising campaign is using language that is outdated and insulting.
If it’s blocking the path it’s a big challenge for the disabled
Who are ‘the disabled’? A faceless, homogenous group who all have the same needs and experience the same challenges? Haven’t we worked for decades to move away from this kind of generalisation? We are so much more than disability, we are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, colleagues and friends.
Language matters. It can empower and disempower in equal measure. Every group that has experienced discrimination and inequality knows how language can be used to diminish them. The same is true for people with disabilities. We all know that using terms like ‘handicapped’ is now completely unacceptable and ‘the disabled’ is no different. We now use language that is inclusive, which recognises individuality and which recognises that disability is not within the person but caused by obstacles created by society and the environment. Why has this not been reflected in the #MakeWayDublin campaign?
On its website, the National Disability Authority states that ‘when writing or speaking about people with disabilities, it is important to put the person first. Catch-all phrases such as ‘the blind’, ‘the deaf’ or ‘the disabled’, do not reflect the individuality, equality or dignity of people with disabilities.
It goes on to identify ‘the disabled’ as a term that is no longer in use and which has been replaced by people with disabilities or disabled people.
This isn’t new either. It’s really basic stuff. The change in the language used to talk about disability took place years ago. If this was another group of people who are affected by inequality like the LGBTQ community or a particular ethnic group we would be calling out the Council on this campaign and the same has to be true in this case.
The premise for the campaign is sound but the delivery is so disappointing. Using inappropriate language to make a campaign slogan work is unacceptable. There are so many other ways this could have been communicated without diminishing people with disabilities and relegating them to a sweeping generalisation. It is a missed opportunity to promote a positive impression of a diverse, talented and skilled group of people from all age groups and all backgrounds who are negatively impacted by the inconsiderate actions of others.
For young people, it’s particularly harmful because all teenagers are trying to find their identity and when teenagers with disabilities are bombarded with negative messages and stereotypes about having a disability it can only be harder to challenge negative, inaccurate perceptions.
We can’t call for accessibility and compromise on equality and inclusion at the same time. #MakeWayDublin but please don’t reduce the diverse abilities and needs of a group of people to the term ‘the disabled’ with the stroke of a pen.
Eileen Daly is a disability activist and works in National Learning Network Student Support Services, a division of the Rehab Group