Awarded Hon. Doctorate of Laws, NUI, 2003
Acceptance Speech by Mary Duffy April 2003
Chancellor, Members of the National University of Ireland, Fellow Honorary Graduates, a Dhaoine Uaisle,
First of all, I would like to thank the chancellor, Dr Garret Fitzgerald, my introducer, Professor Denis Lucey and all others who were instrumental in awarding me this great honour.
I accept this award on behalf of the disability rights movement in Ireland. By this I mean the broad collection of individuals and groups who have resisted and continue to resist the definition of disabled people as being less valuable, less likely to contribute, less visible, and less significant than others in the community…
And it includes every disabled person who every said no.
No, I won’t be excluded. No, I won’t be denied the right to vote. No I won’t let anyone else define how I live my live.
Accepting this award also means acknowledging that as a disabled person I have made a difference and that I have inspired others. Having been influenced by many awe-inspiring disabled myself; this is difficult for me to accept.
People who have inspired me include the late Norah draper, who, in the 1970s took a constitutional action against the state because she was disenfranchised by the requirement that it was necessary for her to enter an inaccessible polling booth in order for her to cast her vote:
Micheline Mason who began the “personal is political disability movement in the in UK in the 1980s and my friends David Egan, Rosaleen McDonagh, Martin Naughton, Helena Saunders and Donal Toolan, who have done much to address injustice and to change the way we think and respond to disability as a civil rights issue in Ireland.
It is difficult because the road to here has been a long and painful one… It has been full of challenges, rejection, hurt and struggle. But if the way was not also overflowing with love and support, adventure and learning, I would not be standing here today.
And so I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those whose commitment has sustained and supported me throughout my life.
Accepting this award is humbling because, when I occasionally ask myself what it is that I want to achieve in my life, the answer is always about wanting to communicate about the reality of being disabled. The common thread throughout my life has been a constant urge to define for myself what disability is, what it means to me, and to learn, together with other disabled people, how to deal with it.
Dealing with disability in the 21st century for most disabled people in Ireland means being unemployed and being poor and not having access to the full range of opportunities as other members of the community. It also means being excluded, whether in special institutions, special classes, special workshops or residential institutions. And it means being valued less than other members of society.
In choosing to acknowledge my work in this way you are validating the lives and lived experience of every disabled person in this country. You are saying in a very real and meaningful way, that our lives are valuable, our struggle is valid and our oppression is real.
In closing, I would like to share with you that while the very existence of the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Act puts a smile on my face every morning we still have a long way to go. As disabled people, we deserve a Disabilities Bill that will enshrine our civil rights in law and in doing so, it will acknowledge in a real and meaningful way, the valuable contribution that disabled people have made and continue to make to Irish society.
I would like to thank all of you for choosing to honour the strength; courage and endurance of Irish disabled people in this the European Year of People with Disabilities.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.