Local campaigners are calling for a change to the current, internationally recognised disability symbol, which they say doesn’t fairly represent those with ‘hidden disabilities’.
Athlone woman Maeve Kelly, who was left with debilitating injuries following a road traffic accident on the Athlone Road just outside Roscommon town in 2016, says that not all disabilities are visible.
“In 2016 I was in a head-on collision which claimed the life of one person. I was left with severe injuries; I shattered my right leg, fractured my left knee, fractured my back, broke my neck and several ribs and had a traumatic brain injury,” she said.
Since her accident Maeve has been using a disabled parking permit. She has a metal plate in her right leg and still suffers severe pain.
Maeve says that due to the nature of her disability, members of the public can make incorrect assumptions and this has caused her further distress.
“People don’t look at the window for the permit. They look at me and make assumptions. Not all disabilities require a wheelchair however and that is why I would like to see a change to the recognised disability symbol”.
Maeve argues that the current symbol doesn’t represent those with ‘hidden disabilities’ and that a new, more inclusive symbol would make life a little bit easier.
Maeve’s campaign has hit home with members of Athlone Access Awareness, a local charity which aims to raise awareness of the need for accessibility for people with disabilities.
John Tynan, a coordinator with the group, says the group is fully behind Maeve’s efforts and says that there needs to be more awareness when it comes to difficulties faced by those with disabilities.
“A simple change to the symbol would include all people with disabilities, including hidden disabilities,” he said.
He added that while much has been done locally in terms of facilities for those with disabilities, issues with parking permits and toilet facilities still need to be addressed.
“We appreciate what the local authorities have done in this area but when it comes to disability badges it needs someone in the area with a genuine interest to enforce it,” he said.
John added that more is needed to be done in terms of street furniture such as signs for pubs and restaurants to make everyday life easier on those with disabilities.
Kiltoom resident Bogdan Negomirnenu is also fully behind the campaign to amend the disability logo. Bogdan (42), who is a European Commercial Law graduate, contracted polio when he was given an overdose of the polio vaccine at the age of just four months in his native Romania and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.
He said that more needs to be done to prevent the disability badge being abused and that adding to the current universal disability symbol would mean that people with hidden disabilities could also be represented.
“Since I moved to Athlone six years ago things have improved and there have been huge changes in the town. Unfortunately we are educated to accept these things (issues for those with disabilities) as normal. It’s time to change the stereotypes around disabilities,” he said.
The campaign to alter the current disability symbol is ongoing and while Maeve and those at Athlone Access Awareness admit that there is a long and difficult road ahead, they believe it’s time to change the conversation and eliminate stereotypes in order to make everyday life more manageable for those with disabilities.