‘There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’, Hamlet said, admitting his own tendency toward pessimism. Perception and temperament colour the way each of us responds to events and experiences. In any situation, some individuals zoom in on the optimistic nuances; others can only see the defects. Politicians in power invariably favour a positive interpretation—and it is astonishing how pessimistic their perception becomes when they cross to the opposition benches in the Dáil! Dispassionate observation (by whom?) usually acknowledges the plusses and minuses in real situations.
This issue of Frontline features several two-sided coins. President Mary McAleese’s acceptance speech at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt International Disability Award for Ireland ceremony showed an admirable lack of self-satisfaction or smugness, although she acknowledged the good work of many Irish disability organisations and individuals (carers, in particular). She also emphasised the ‘moral obligation to ensure that we maintain and accelerate the momentum for change in disability-related policies and service provision’.
With a striking irony, during the same week in May the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Community Rights received critical submissions on human and social rights inadequacies in Ireland. Delegates from the St Joseph’s Parents and Friends (of St Ita’s, Portrane) spoke for the otherwise-unheard vulnerable persons with mental handicap still in psychiatric hospitals. Perhaps the apparent contradiction in the two UN events can be reconciled by ‘the carrot and the stick’ logic. Certainly, disability advocates feel that the bronze bust of FDR must not be displayed on any governmental mantelpiece until the Equal Status Act and the National Disability Authority have proven their effectiveness, the promised Disabilities Bill is enacted, and many more of the recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities have been implemented.
It’s natural to see greener grass on the other side of the fence. There are beautiful verdant fields in Oregon, but there are weeds there too—maybe even some noxious tansy ragwort—in the nation which prides itself on the ADA, the IDEA and all manner of disability-rights legislation.
Justice Declan Costello, who chaired the Plenary Session at the NAMHI AGM, referred to progress made in learning disability services in Ireland since 1961, when he was the first chairman of NAMHI. Some people in the AGM audience heard a complacent note in that, even perhaps an implied slight to present campaigners. Others, perhaps those with longer memories, welcomed the recognition of nearly four decades of Trojan work by successive NAMHI executives and members. To this listener, Justice Costello’s words were neither complacent nor self-congratulatory, but an acknowledgement of energetic advocacy and an exhortation to continue with the task ahead. As he said: ‘Is there no end to this ould mountain?’
Our ‘current issue’ concerns health matters—dental and eye care, nutrition and the medical-care experience. The articles are necessarily brief and general, but it is hoped that they emphasise the need to encourage and maintain a high quality of life and general health for everyone, despite their level of physical or learning disability.
Real life is full of positive/negative contrasts. Frontline continues to try to tell it ‘like it is’—with neither doom and gloom, nor pastel tints.