Joe Kenny: Odd crumb of progress is not enough in equality battle


Joe Kenny, who’s blind, lives in Belfast and works in the voluntary sector, argues that disability does not enjoy the same access to equality as gender equality, age equality or sexual orientation equality

DISABILITY – let’s face it, starting any word with ‘DIS’ and it’s seldom a good thing?

When I use that word, either as a noun or an adjective, so begins an interesting inner conflict.

But we need a word or way to describe things, I hear you cry. Yes, but in classification and putting things in boxes, so begins the road to inequality – not all boxes are treated equal in the great warehouse of life.

I’m testing out this belief that I’m not actually disabled. It’s society around me that understands my lack of eyesight as a problem.

How can I hold this belief? If I do, surely I must know that I can’t go around blaming everyone else for the challenges I face in real life.

Really if you look at it, am I just refusing to accept a truth obvious to everyone but me, and unless we turn every light out and halt the march of progress, it makes no sense.

But I believe, with a big brave attitude shift, time and resources could be channelled in a different way. It doesn’t take a major leap; it just takes those with the purse-strings of power to stop saying DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) over and over again in meetings and to just get on with it! It’s time we stopped contenting ourselves with the odd crumb of progress from the table of the already-equal.

I’m blind and have been so for 35 years now. I lost my sight at the age of five from complications or something to do with congenital glaucoma.

So as a blind man living and working in Belfast, what do I think represents inequality in my life today?

Inequality is telling four blind school leavers that, according to statistics, unlike your sighted peers, only one of you will get a job.

Inequality is showing a blind person 100 published books and then saying “but you can only read seven of these”.

Inequality is the fact that here we are in 2017 and people who can’t see too well are still denied even the basic literature in a form they can read independently, either from our health and social care service, Social Security Agency or electoral and political process.

In my opinion, as a society we’re trapped in a hamster wheel of providing the most, to the most, for the most – telling ourselves that there’s nothing to be done and that’s just the way the world works.

It’s apparent to me that disability does not share the same access to equality as, say, gender equality, age equality or sexual orientation equality. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s all vital and I’m not the one saying that one fight for equal rights should be prioritised over another.

We’re still in the midst of viewing disability through medical-tinted glasses. People with disabilities are to be cared for more than made equal. One flick through the recently ill-fated Draft Programme for Government tells its own story.

If we ever get another working Northern Ireland Assembly, maybe we’ll get ourselves a minister for disability and all will be well?

Growing up, it took me a long time to finally realise that a lot of perceived inequality is in the eye of the beholder. I remember the peace I felt the day the penny dropped that I was the master of my own outlook, and that you can choose how you feel and whether you let the inequality that’s buffeting you from outside, inside.

• To see the online version of our equality issue of VIEW, go to


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