My PhD has meant I have reflected on what I thought about disability and decision making as a teenager and also what I know now that I wish I knew then a lot. From this, and conversations with many friends and colleagues, came the inspiration for this blog post series. In this series I have asked Irish disability advocates to write a letter to their sixteen year old self. I am delighted to start the series with a letter by Paul Alford.

Dear Paul,

I know you are living in boarding school right now and that you don’t like it. They don’t let you make decisions and you have to do lots of things you don’t like. They don’t let you choose what you have for dinner or tea and if you don’t eat what comes from the kitchen you are left starving. The doors are locked at 9pm and you cannot go anywhere until morning. It is not a nice place.

I am writing to you to tell you that things won’t always be this way. You will learn that you have rights and you can decide what you want to do in life. There will be hard years ahead but you will move out of these places and buy your own house. You will be your own boss and someone’s else too. You will have a support person who you chose and interviewed yourself. Their job will be to help you do what you like and what you want. They might give you advice or support but cannot make you do what they want anymore!

You also have your own job, which pays your properly, with Inclusion Ireland. In this job you teach people to speak up for themselves and their rights. Our voices, our choices!

Friends are really important in your life. You might be nervous right now about leaving the institution and doing things by yourself. Don’t worry! You will be part of an anti-bullying group and make new friends and learn a lot. You will meet new people who will help you to move out and after that people to just have fun with and go to the pub, have tea, coffee, a meal with or play sports or bingo. You will do 5km walks and go to the racing track for fun!

Travelling is something else you that is really important in your life. By now I have seen almost half the world and most of this I have done by myself. Our brother brought me to Graceland and made our wish of seeing Elvis’ house come through. It was a great trip.

I hope this letter helps you and lots of other people see that you can move out of institutions, buy your own home, make friends, travel and do anything else you like.

You have rights. Don’t be afraid to fight for them!



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