Why I’m here, by Sarah Fitzgerald


Sarah Fitzgerald


I am a Celtic Tiger cub. I was just eight years old when the first Centre for Independent Living was   established in Carmichael House in 1992.

Back then, I had no idea that there was an Independent Living Movement. Little did I know that a group of activists were out there struggling to achieve basic human rights for people with disabilities. People who were consumed by the need to be recognised as people with desires, hopes and passions, just like everyone else.

I didn’t know that the work of these people would later enable me to live independently, go to college, enter employment and even have a child.

As I’ve got older, I’ve become more adamant that people with disabilities should be treated equally, that society poses (and often constructs) significant barriers to equal participation. I’ve watched the examples of veteran activists, both those who are still with us and those who have left us (like Martin Naughton, Ursula Hegarty, Dermot Walsh and so, so many others). They were so passionate, so definite about what they wanted to achieve, that they persevered on behalf of all of us, making such great progress along the way.

Sure, they made some mistakes as well. But isn’t that one of the principles of the Independent Living Movement: the freedom to make mistakes, just as everyone else does?

The philosophy of Independent Living is so powerful and in its purest form, allows people with disabilities not only to make choices regarding their own lives, but also affords them dignity and respect and the freedom to make mistakes.

Unfortunately the recession moulded the meaning of Independent Living into something that does not sit well with many of us. The underlying narrative is that money is tight, and this has morphed into a justification as to why our dignity and independence seems to be constantly under threat. We live in a state of fear that a service that enables so many of us to be independent could be whipped away from us at any moment.

When Martin and those who worked with him in the early days set up the first Center for Independent Living, they did so knowing they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. And since the beginning of the recession, disability activists have been fiercely protecting our right to Independent Living and Personal Assistance. Yet, there’s a sense of fear and of vulnerability that if we are not seen to cooperate with State Bodies and service providers that vital services will be taken away.

Aren’t you sick of it?

‘By Us, With Us,’ is a newly formed group of disability activists who want to capture the spirit of those gone before us, and to pay tribute to those activists who brought about the change that enable us to enjoy Independent Living. I also set up the blog for selfish reasons I admit. As a ‘Celtic Tiger cub’, I want to know more about the history of the movement so that we can try and recapture the essence of it.

Each of us have a part to play in bringing back the spirit and the passion of the Independent Living Movement, and I’ve no doubt that by coming together, we can do just that.


2 thoughts on “Why I’m here, by Sarah Fitzgerald

  1. It is most frustrating after so many years as a nation that the people’s empowered by the state still don’t know or want to know the difference between a carer and a personal assistant , or independent living and living independently These cancers and that’s what they are have been conceived by officials and officialdom For maybe one of three reasons 1 the enjoy inflicting the torture of confinement and ownership of people’s lives or 2 the fear that those with disabilities might just do the job better than themselves 3, embarrassment we look weird or dangerous as compared to their warped perception of what is normal 4 orsomething else- maybe and it’s doubtful that someone might be as brave as a disabled person and explain in understandable terminology exactly What are the rationale ?


  2. Sarah’s blog is a perfect example of why having some knowledge and appreciation of the history of the disability movement is so important. Of course our primary concerns should be with the present and what we can do to improve the lives of people with disability and in the future. But having a knowledge of disability activists of the past and where they came from gives us extra strength to move forward. Imagine an African American activist who never heard of Martin Luther King. Even those who started the Irish Wheelchair Association way back in 1960 were radicals of their day. Without them there wouldn’t even be dips in any of our footpaths for wheelchair users, and the work that Liam Maguire did over at least the last ten years of his life lead to accessible Buses which Dermot Walsh eventually brought to fruition. Well done Sarah for recognising what happened in the early 90’s is very important to where we are today.


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