“I Didn’t Think of That”

Like many public buildings, College’s disability infrastructure is insufficient and incomplete. Rory
O’Donoghue slams the “I didn’t think of that” attitude but strikes a hopeful note for positive change
in the future.

I wanted my first article for Trinity News to be on a current affairs issue; an article based on my
views and opinions which could spark a debate. Despite having a disability and using a wheelchair
for some of the time, I have always wanted people to remember me for the things I do and say,
rather than simply physical uniqueness. I like to think I have been rather successful at this.
Nevertheless, I feel that my first piece should be on what it is like to have a disability and attend
Trinity College.

Struggling up the second flight of stairs in House 6, it dawned on me what a bizarre sight I must
have been. For anyone that was passing by they would have seen a man stand up out of his
wheelchair and become almost right angled as he leaned on the banister and attempted to climb the
stairs. I actually had to stop half way as even I was laughing at the thought of the sight. Every day I
still find it hilarious to think of the numerous tour groups that are disrupted by the noise of me
rattling past on my way to the arts block. I remember one mystified tourist looking up into the sky in
an attempt to locate the source of the noise.

It does highlight the point I am trying to make; despite the hard work of so many brilliant people in
College and all the modernisation that has happened, it is still a challenge to fully participate in
college life. From being at the back of every lecture theatre, to having different entry or access points
and even events being held upstairs, there are many obstacles. I hope this is not taken as directed towards
anyone or any society in particular, the fact of the matter is, despite all of its beauty, Trinity simply
is not up to modern standards of accessibility. I accept that many massive changes have been made
over recent years to drag College’s infrastructure into the twenty-first century, but so much more is

Take for example, the bizarre situation with the pathways in front square. I cannot imagine what life was
like before those paths were laid down. They are an excellent addition. However, what happened
when the builders reached the stretch before the Arts Block? Did the college forget that there was a
possibility they would have disabled arts students? Perhaps there was a builder’s strike which was
never resolved. My guess is that the process was too complex to continue the construction. While I
understand the difficulties that must have been involved, would we allow a similar excuse if it
created a difficulty for anyone else attending college? I very much doubt it.

 Let us put an end to
the type of culture that does not think of the basic necessities needed by everyone, not just people
with disabilities.

As I said before, I do not intend this article to be aimed at any group in particular. I do not believe
people are actively going out to create these difficulties and barriers. Moreover I believe it is
indicative of society in general. The problems I have highlighted in college are evident all over
Dublin. An example of this I always give is pubs that advertise themselves as wheelchair friendly. In
one particular pub, they were indeed wheelchair friendly with step-free access and a wheelchair
accessible bathroom. The only problem was once in the bathroom, you could not turn around in the
room, nor could you close the door. When I told one of the staff about this, they came out with the
cliché “Oh, we didn’t think of that”. Can you really believe that they didn’t think it was necessary to
close the door when you are in the bathroom? I don’t think it’s a craze that will catch on.

In an age of austerity, where different groups are campaigning on different issues against the cuts,
there seems to be a new found interest in people with disabilities. Groups and organisations that
were nowhere to be seen during the boom are suddenly our new best friends. While I commend and
respect everyone that campaigns against unjust cuts, it again shows the attitude that is shown
towards disabled people. It’s the “I didn’t think of that” attitude. In an age of austerity they are
highlighting the plight of disabled people, but the sad reality is the majority of disabled people in this
country never experienced a boom. While there was money to burn on SSIAs and other vote wining
exercises, people with lifelong disabilities, such as myself, still had to go to a review board each year
to “prove” that we were still disabled.

Irish society has made great strides in creating a more equal and tolerant society. Unfortunately, as
is the case for so many minorities in this country, much more needs to be done. Let us put an end to
the type of culture that does not think of the basic necessities needed by everyone, not just people
with disabilities. During my time here in Trinity I have met so many fantastic and understanding
people and societies. I know that they do not want things to continue the way they are. This is why I
believe that if we pull together we can ensure Trinity is the best university in Ireland to come to for

Matthew Mulligan

Matthew is Editor for the 62nd volume of Trinity News. He is a Sociology and Social Policy graduate and was previously Deputy Editor of tn2 Magazine.