Mindfulness and Heartfulness – engaging with the world

Mindfulness starts with awareness and the ability to be present to whatever is helping us to live with more ease and choice with whatever are the circumstances of our life.  Heartfulness on the other hand  builds on mindfulness and evokes a response in us –  calling us to loving action in the world. For some time now my engagement in the world has included some work in the area of disability in Ireland and the following reflection,/heartfulness response comes from that. As you read it I invite you to reflect on what hearfulness engagement are you being called to ?

Potted history of disability in Ireland

We are a caring society

The traditional model of care for people living with disabilities in Ireland as elsewhere was the medical model which saw people living their lives in institutions or congregated settings where the focus was on caring for them so that their primary experience might be one of dependence and total reliance on the full support of clinical and non-clinical staff. Many of our disability organisations emerged from this model which may still even unconsciously inform the culture within which the new work of decongregation is taking place.

The small persistent voice of resistance to being ‘cared for’

The social model of disability emerged from among those living with disabilities from their experience of the traditional medical model neither reflecting their lived experience nor helping them to develop a more inclusive self determining way of living. The social model suggests that disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by the individual’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people. The belief is that with barriers removed, disabled people can become independent and equal in society, with choice and control over their own lives.

The emerging rights model of disability

The Independent Living Movement which has roots in the black civil rights struggle evolved in the United States in the 1970s as a response by disabled people to their historic experience of exclusion and discrimination. In Ireland, Independent Living has been advanced by the Centre for Independent Living Network since.[1] During this period a report by the Disability Federation of Ireland/Citizens Information Board (DFI/CIB)[2] pointed to a need for new thinking which would address the accommodation and related support needs of people with disabilities in the context of ‘social inclusiveness, equality of access and the provision of accessible and integrated living environments’. This approach marks a significant shift from earlier perspectives which viewed the accommodation needs of people with disabilities as being met primarily in the context of “special needs housing”.

The Game Changer – the first Human Rights Treaty of the 21st century

When 164 states and the EU signed United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, (Ireland was among the first to sign) it heralded a light bulb moment with a new global recognition of an always existing reality that disabled citizens have a right to opportunity to equality, having independence and choice, with the ability to participate in their wider communities. The stated purpose of the convention is ‘to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity ‘, and as nations ratify, it acts as a target for them to aim for in granting the always existing (by virtue of their humanity) right to equal status as citizens with disabilities. On March 30th, 2007, the Irish minister for justice Michael McDowell signed the UNCRPD on behalf of the Irish government, described it as ‘a blueprint for a significant improvement’ in the lives of people with disabilities and promised that Ireland would ratify it ‘as soon as possible’.

Not a very urgent matter in Ireland though

And so began ten years of repeated promises that Ireland would ‘ratify as soon as possible’ though each successive government seemed to kick the can further down the road so that over the years our failure to ratify became something of an international badge of shame.

In late 2017 journalist Tom Clonan a gave voice to the frustration of activists about our failure to ratify:[3]

‘Personally, I’ve had enough’ he wrote. ‘ Would Irish men and women tolerate a State that detained citizens on aircraft because of their sexuality or sexual orientation? Would Irish citizens tolerate a system that demanded 24 hours notice of travel of the LGBTI community? A State that confined over a thousand LGBTI citizens to an Irish-style gulag archipelago of nursing homes? No. So, why impose this on the so- called ‘disabled?’

Finally ratification in Ireland – the dawn of a new era?

Thursday 19th April 2018 – Ireland officially commenced implementation of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability (UN CRPD).

“The aim of this Convention is to ensure that the human rights of citizens with disabilities, rights shared by all people, are fully and routinely present in their everyday lives. These include obvious areas such as employment, education, free and easy movement, public transport, housing, health and social services and income supports. There are other important issues for people with disabilities such as freedom of choice, respecting will and preference, bodily autonomy and dignity, which must also be addressed”[4].Senator John Dolan, CEO of DFI said people with disabilities (would) expect to see the equality promised by the CRPD now become real. The Convention’s significance he said “lies in its insistence on the equal rights and equal treatment of people with disabilities, giving nothing extra – there are no adds-on or special clauses for people with disabilities. There is just the plain insistence on equality, the benefits of which will only be experienced if the implementation phase is fully and effectively implemented.”

How do I live from and support this new realisation of the equality of citizens with disabilities in Ireland?

Which model of disability of disability  do I really live from ?

Where is my discomfort in the challenge of current real inequality in this area in Ireland?

What am I  to do as an engaged mindfulness teacher as I go about my day to day work often with persons with disability and organisations which support them?

The power of Kindness

The answer to many of the current deficits in how we respect or not the equal rights of disabled citizens to do ‘ordinary things in ordinary places’ lies in political will to deliver on our obligations and sufficient funding to support those organisations only too willing to see our disabled citizens allowed to live lives of equality – exercising choice and preferences in how thy live their lives that I take for granted in mine. So it is right that I advocate and lobby and work for our real implementation of the UN convention. But at another level I am invited every day to be kind to all involved in the area of disability – wishing all well and doing what I can in the specific circumstances of each day to recognise our common humanity – May we be well, may we be happy, may we live in peace.



[1] http://dublincil.org/network-council.asp

[2] //www.nuigalway.ie/media/housinglawrightsandpolicy/nationalpolicy/disability/The-Right-Living-Space-Housing-and-Accommodation-Needs-of-People-with-Disabilities- 2007

[3] http://www.thejournal.ie/factfind-un-crpd-3595556-Sep2017/

[4] http://www.senatorjohndolan.ie/news-media/57-thursday-19th-april-2018-ireland-officially-commences-implementation-of-united-nations-convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-a-disability-un-crpd

[5] “Bold and innovative policy decisions are not self-executing” as noted by Jim Mansell and Kent

Ericsson in their 1996 study on deinstitutionalisation in Scandinavia, Britain, and the USA.

[6] https://www.healthpartnership.ie/news/health-planning-decongregation

[7] Time to move on from congregated settings – A strategy for Social Inclusion, HSE 2011

[8] National Standards for Residential Services for Children and Adults with Disabilities, 2013

[9] https://www.healthpartnership.ie/news/health-planning-decongregation

[10] Social Role Valorization https://www.socialrolevalorization.com/en/srv-theory

[11] In November 2015, the HSE published Interim Standards for New Directions Services and Supports for Adults with Disabilities requiring service providers and key stakeholders to involve people with disabilities in the design, delivery, monitoring and evaluation of the services and supports provided. .