25 Jun 2022

'Disability does not define me' — Kildare teenager

Riannach McGuire on facing awkward questions while growing up in Naas

'Disability does not define me' — Kildare teenager

Riannach McGuire, fifth year student at Piper's Hill, Naas

Riannach McGuire, a fifth year student at Pipers Hill Community College, Naas, writes about growing up with a disability in Kildare

’What is wrong with you?’ This is a question a person would often me ask out of curiosity and I would say ‘I have a disability’. This answer would make them very awkward.

They would stand in front of me, frozen, not sure how to respond, eventually coming out of their state of shock replying with a “sorry”.

This response always makes me laugh because they don’t need to apologise. I already know I have a funny walk. I’ve even nicknamed my bad leg ‘Gabby’, the girl version of ‘gammy’.

However this question has always confused me.

When I was younger, in the Mercy Convent Primary School in Naas, I never felt different to my peers. Like, sure, I had a funny cushion I sat on to stop myself from dramatically falling off my seat randomly during class, and I fell a lot — and I mean a lot — at lunch. However, it didn’t faze me as a kid.

That feeling completely changed after I got an operation on my leg in sixth class, putting me in a lousy wheelchair for two months. I still hate that chair. When lunch was on, I was not allowed set foot or wheel outside. It was the most boring two months of my life.

However it gave me time to think. I thought, ‘I am in this chair for only two months, what about kids who are in these chairs full time? When do they go out?’

This made me think and ask, are there even facilities in Naas or Kildare for disabled kids? Where kids can have fun and not be wrapped in bubble wrap, or watched from every angle, just in case they fall. Kids are meant to fall — it’s in their DNA to fall from trees, stools, or bikes. Anything they can get their hands on, kids will manage to hurt themselves with it.

Believe me when I say my parents tried me out in every activity they could in Naas.

I went to Irish dancing, but I got kicked out because the teacher said I was useless.

I was 6 — however to be fair my dancing is basically limbs just flying everywhere.

I went to horse riding, where the instructors didn’t want me to attend lessons as they were afraid I would fall every time I got up on a horse. I did horse riding for three years after that comment.

Over the years, the meaning of the question ‘what is wrong with you?’ became more apparent.

These condescending and prejudicial comments about my ability, due to my disability, showed ignorance I hadn’t been aware of when I was younger.

People expected me to fail at activities that they feared me to do.

Eventually, I did find an activity where I felt coaches and instructors did not want to lock me away in a box forever.

At Naas Rugby Club, I found my calling. No one cared if I fell or even bled. I thought it was great. However, all the activities I attempted when I was younger were all able-bodied activities. This has me questioning whether there are any facilities for people who are the same age or younger in similar situations to me.

Trust me when I say, when people ask ‘what is wrong with you?’, I do think of my disability but that is just one tiny part of me as a person. It is there, nevertheless it is not important.

It does not define my ability, and I think many people who ever felt underestimated will agree with this.

I think kids in Naas and even Ireland should encouraged and shown that there are opportunities out there for them. Disability or not.

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