My 21-year-old sister can hardly walk on her own, can’t talk, has complex learning difficulties and requires almost 24/7 care. The woman I love has serious written dyslexia which affects her studying at university. My stepbrother is on the autistic spectrum and also has epilepsy, so severe, last month he underwent extremely invasive brain surgery. My dad is the treasurer of Mencap Guernsey and my mum is the treasurer of the Guernsey Specials Gym Club.
For me disability isn’t a political issue, it isn’t a talking point. It’s my life.
I make no apologies for my admission that my day-to-day life is affected by disability and has been for almost all of my 25 years on this earth – despite me not being affected by one myself. Whether it's looking after my little sister Beth, taking my stepbrother home after dinner at my dad's or spell-checking Tiffany's dissertation. But in honesty, these aren't the parts I find tough about living with people with a disability in Guernsey.
The facets which I find difficult are the bits which I still to this day struggle to understand - the fact that in the Channel Islands the attitude towards disability from the public, business and the government still has a long-way to go towards becoming acceptable.
When I think about islanders’ attitudes to disability my mind always casts back to a day at Saumarez Park with my family. My sister Beth was enjoying an ice cream, and like most of us at our best efforts, her clothes were enjoying half of it as the hot midday sun saw fit to cut the enjoyment short. Across on another picnic table outside the cafe was a group - two mothers/guardians looking after a group of toddlers. Now I'm not bothered by children under the age of 10 staring at my little sister, mouths open, aghast wondering why Beth isn't like them and their friends. What I do hold issue with is two grown women, staring and pointing at my sister - who through no fault of her own can neither defend herself nor articulate her difficulties. Now in this particular case, unlike many other times walking around the supermarket, 14-year-old me actually took the action to go over and speak to the people in question. To tell them, "it's not very nice to point and stare" let alone to giggle surreptitiously behind your palm. I'll tell you what; I don't think I ever heard a quicker bit of backtracking, well perhaps except for last week's budget kerfuffle by Hammond and May.
Now curiosity is one thing. Tolerance is another thing altogether. Children can be forgiven, but grown adults ostracising and treating people with a disability differently, in my view is wholly unacceptable. Values of tolerance and acceptance in the 21st century are as important as your classic dinner table manners, and should be instilled from a young age.
My life has been inextricably linked to disability and the issues that face people with a disability on a day-to-day basis, which is why this year, I’m absolutely over-the-moon that our partner charity at ITV Channel are two organisations championing the needs of islanders with a disability. Enable (Formerly the Jersey Society for the Disabled) and Access For All are two relatively new groups but already they’ve got a footprint in each of the islands we live. Throughout 2017 we'll be highlighting the work these organisations do across the Channel Islands, and making sure that the voice of islanders with a disability is heard.
I for one can't wait.