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A View From Here

“A View From Here” is a DVD both funded and facilitated by the Irish Wheelchair Association. It breaks exciting new ground in the context of what life is like in school for persons with a disability. Second years Claire and Marie Kenny of Mercy Secondary Ballymahon Co. Longford are both the creators and directors of this production.

Marie and Claire are twins - and because Claire is disabled, and Marie is able-bodied, life has put these girls in the unique position of being able to see and compare how the world responds to those who have a disability.
The DVD was launched on the 15th of December and was shot in Rochfordbridge Secondary school.

Claire and Marie made good use of it’s Transition year students having used an exciting X-Factor style selection process to burrow out it‘s acting talent.

The DVD created quite a stir - by virtue of the unique insights that it gives - to the point where it was given a slot on the RTE 6 o’clock news. Since that publicity which happened in late January, both Mercy Ballymahon and the girls have been inundated with good wishes and enquiries on their presentation.

It is as if - A View From Here - was finally that voice which cried a truth in the wilderness. It said most eloquently what is too often unsaid and perhaps lingers in the minds of many of the disabled. It is a signal lesson in awareness. It is a window into all the peculiarities and foibles with which able-bodied persons conduct themselves when confronted by disability.

These foibles or perhaps shortcomings include a misplaced compassion; a highly-strung sense of the disabled as one who is different and the inadvertent treatment of them as children who cannot speak or act for themselves - even though they might be sixteen or seventeen years of age.

This premise came dropping slowly to the minds of the girls over the years, when Claire noticed that people would respond in very different ways to herself and her able-bodied sister. People would see the difference of her disability and unfortunately respond accordingly.

The presentation focuses on a school day in the life of a girl called Kate in a wheelchair, but needless to say, the presentation contains principles of difference, alienation and subtle discrimination that can apply to all. The scene shot in the classroom is a case in point.

It starts where the wheelchair-bound Kate in her own mind bemoans the fact that she is overlooked even when it comes to messing in class; as if to say - she is the one to be pitied and to be helped; she is not the one we can mess with.

Soon after, she expresses her dread at being asked a certain question; the subject in question is maths. At this moment, she is her normal self. She dreads being asked like everyone else. But when she is asked and admits her unknowingness, the teacher’s response immediately places her in a special compassionate category. He tells her not to worry about not knowing the answer.

He then proceeds to ask the same question to an able-bodied boy - who gets severely reprimanded for his unknowingness; and then he’s thrown out of the class. She is given special treatment when she doesn’t know the answer and is excused by a misplaced compassion.

This scene outlines very clearly how people too often see the person with a disability as fundamentally different. Many would say that there is a sudden atmosphere of awe that happens when a small child is present. The atmosphere in people changes as they respond to a child.

And unfortunately, the same happens to many people when confronted with people who have disabilities. There is an unfortunate shift of mood and atmosphere. They click into sympathy-mode; they click into pitiable mode, or compassionate mode.

They feel they in some way have to mark the difference that they see in the disabled person - with a difference in their own behaviour; hence the arbitrary inclusions at times - or great floods of compassion and helpfulness - which really only render the disabled - even more helpless and isolated. Their difference is highlighted, not accepted.

Other examples of this abound in the presentation. Kate is sorry that she cannot take the school bus, and therefore misses the fun that can happen there. Another scene shows a group of students having a very animated and interesting conversation about the movie Twilight.

Kate is very much on the fringe in this conversation and her attempts to contribute fail. However, one well-intentioned girl turns to include her in the conversation, having noticed that she was a little isolated. She asks her what class they have next. But this inclusion breaks the natural flow of the interesting “Twilight” conversation and after Kate answers the question, she poignantly asks in her own mind - why do they change the conversation to boring things when they talk to me.

And so the presentation continues; and so the veils are hopefully lifted from our eyes. Directors Marie and Claire Kenny are skilfully revealing how the person with a disability craves the normality that others possess. They want to be asked about their social life.

They want to hit the town at lunchtime; they do not want half the school swilling around them as if they are in a perpetual state of distress. They do not want an overwrought compassion; they do not want to be continuously reminded of their disability or marked out as different.

And yet we all know that certain provisions have to be made - whether ramps, wide doors or subtle partings of the seas when wheelchairs roll down busy corridors. It’s all about a balance. What perhaps we all need to realise is that first and foremost - beyond the physical disabilities of all the Kate’s of this world - are hearts and minds which are just as sharp and sensitive and ordinary as ours, with hopes and dreams as ambitious and normal as ours.

Both the girls, the students of Rochfordbridge and the Irish Wheelchair Association are to be commended on this fine production. The DVD and resource booklet are available for download by clicking here.