Student Blog 3 J Fitzgibbon

I found my participation as a student volunteer with this project created a deeper interest in the historical and contemporary policies and issues around institutional care for citizens with disabilities in Ireland.  Although, I considered myself politically engaged I hadn’t given much consideration to this topic previously.  However, listening to Matt and Val’s stories of their journey from residential care to independent living offered an insight and connection beyond mere academic interest.

I think digital story-telling is a powerful format as it allows individuals to tell their own stories rather than have them mediated through a third party.  I imagine this must be particularly empowering for individuals with disabilities.  But it is also more engaging for the listener who hears not just the dry details of their lives but the emotions, frustrations and successes of the endeavour to carve out an independent existence.  This enables a richer understanding and empathy rooted in our shared humanity.

During the course of this project I also listened to the stories of refugees in Ireland in direct provision and some parallels struck me with institutional care for those with disabilities.  For example, I particularly empathised with the frustration of not being able to choose and cook your own food as this is something which is very important to me in my daily life.  I can see how not being able to determine when you eat or what you eat and the absence of the whole ritual around making and eating your meals erodes the dignity and independence of an individual.  This is not something I had previously given much consideration to.   However, now I understand how our sense of dignity as human beings is intrinsically and intricately wrapped up in the hundreds of small choices most of us are free to make each day.  This insight has helped me recognise that ultimately policies must honour the humanity and dignity of the citizens they affect.  And the best way to do this is to listen to people’s stories and hear what they are saying…