New Irish movement set to advocate for women, trans and non-binary people living with disabilities

Catherine Gallagher

Pictured: Alannah Murray. co-founder of DWI

A new organisation that advocates for the rights of women, transgender and non-binary people living with disabilities in Ireland held its first event of the year in Dublin on 26th January.

Disabled Women Ireland (DWI) held an open meeting in Dogpatch Labs to populate their working groups that will steer the next steps in the organisation’s movement. The group found each other and gained momentum in March 2018 through online platforms during the campaign of the Eighth Amendment.

Maria Ní Fhlatharta is one of the co-founders of DWI and also a lawyer who has specialised in disability law and policy. She said that the discussion and advocacy of reproductive rights for disabled women was one of the driving forces for them to form DWI.

“We were being disadvantaged (with having access to abortion) disproportionately. And we were in every sense of the word. You just have to travel on a London tube or go through airports to see it. Airports are the biggest barrier to abortion and they are the worst place to be disabled. It’s one of the things that unites the spectrum of disability,” Ní Fhlatharta said.

She continued, “We started functioning as a DPO (Disabled Persons Organisation) last March. We’ve been oscillating between very specific campaign issues. There was also legislation going through that has barriers on disabled people. For example, the three day waiting period, lack of providers, lack of a guarantee of access and some real lack of clarity around the guardianship laws.”

Eleanor Walsh, Louise Bruton, Clíona de Bhailís and Rosaleen McDonagh were among those who held panel discussions on legal capacity and guardianship laws, solidarity, sex and dating as well as specific gender issues in relation to autism.

Information was also shared on the working groups that will help to drive the group’s progression in areas such as policy, communication, campaigns, policy on outreach, development and membership as well as fundraising and finance.

“The disability rights world can be very much dominated by men or issues could be taken from a very hetero-normative point of view. I think it comes down to that it’s ours, we own it as disabled women, transgender and non-binary people. We do have an ally problem in Ireland. We have had a problem with non-disabled people speaking for disabled people,” she said.

Since its formation, DWI has also worked through Twitter discussions to attempt to de-stigmatise language surrounding disability that may be avoided.

Ní Fhlatharta said it is wrong to assume that people with disabilities want to avoid identifying as disabled.

“In other countries, we’re better at accepting that disability is not something that is wrong with us, it’s a form of oppression. Having a disability and being disabled links us into a huge history, community and culture and it’s what makes us rights holders. We are subjects of rights, not objects of charity,” she explained.

Alannah Murray is an academic and another co-founder of DWI. They explained the importance of having a space to allow people to come together to discuss these issues is crucial.

“I was sat at the back of the room during one of the breaks and everyone was in different groups having so many different conversations and it just felt surreal that we had managed to bring all these people together.

“It was a real watershed moment for me that it really registered what we were building together. I suppose what really sets us apart is that while we are of course building a movement, what we’re really building is a family of sorts,” said Murray.

In the immediate future DWI plan to organise events in leadership training and raise further awareness of the implications that the straw ban will have on their members. They also hope to contribute to the Sex Education Bill.

Catherine Gallagher

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