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Accessibility, Tradition, and Identity: The Irish Experience (2014)

During my time in Ireland, my study abroad group met for 4 consecutive Summits. A Summit, as defined by Professor Navarra, is an extended two-hour-long discussion that combines the two courses being taught as part of Hofstra in Ireland Study Abroad Program, June 25th to July 23th, 2014. These summits aimed to discuss the issues inherent in modern Ireland. A current events portion of the summits was the heart of the discussion and each student was told to present an article relating to his/her interests, from the opinion section of any Irish newspaper. In this post, I’ll talk about the subjects that I focused on and shared during the summits: disability and language.

I presented the issue of student experiences related to disabilities on NUIG’s campus. According to the article titled, “Student Experience: Disability on Campus” by Meenraj Panthee, the campus is legally accessible, but there are still areas of service that need to be improved or newly implemented. For example, for the visually impaired, the author of the article is calling for on-hand personal academic assistance to help students with tasks such as: orientation and mobility-training for moving around the university and vicinity, reading books, writing documents, and so on. Also, Panthee makes the suggestion that Braille must be put alongside visual print on bathroom and classroom doors.

In my own case, although, I’m not visually impaired, I’m in complete agreement with Panthee that adjustments have to be made to NUIG’s disability friendliness. As a person with a physical disability, who uses a wheelchair, I found that mobility in the university left much to be desired. For instance, when I needed to use the university’s shuttle bus there wasn’t an established bus stop, at the departure point in Corrib Village, with a built-in ramp to prevent the problem of tilting chairs. Also, in the bus, there wasn’t a designated area to park a wheelchair so the bus driver had to move people from their seats to the back of the bus (to remove two bus seats) in order to make room for my chair. On top of that there were no wheelchair restraints to tie-down my chair in the event that the bus made an abrupt stop or would be involved in an accident. To make matters worse, the Irish government’s accessible bus regulations declare (in a signage pasted in the bus) that wheelchairs must face the back of the bus, in the event of an accident and I was facing the front. On the subject of mobility inside the campus, I must say that to go from my dorm to the classroom I had to drive about ¼ of a mile on the streets alongside cars since some sidewalks didn’t have ramps. It is then sufficient to say that although I am moving around on wheels I’m a pedestrian. I belong on the sidewalk, not on the streets!

Now, you must understand that I’m not putting the blame on anyone for the inaccessibility I faced at NUIG, after all the Disability Act compliant laws in Ireland were passed in 2005.

Back to the summit, I also presented an article discussing the future of the native language: Irish, which is a current DEBATE among the Irish people. The article was titled: “Irish is a dying language — so let it die already!” The two sides of the debate are:

YES: Accept its death; we will better off

NO: Letting the Irish language die is selfish

After reading the two columns, I have come to agree with the “NO” opinion. I think that letting the Irish language die is selfish, because the Irish language is a link to the Irish past. Moreover, it represents the tradition and heritage of the Irish people. Language, in general, is a quintessential part of national identity, so why strip the Irish of what in part makes them Irish?

The problem that Ireland faces today is that the country has to wrestle with its split geography and identity. On one side, the North, is part of the United Kingdom, so the language that should be spoken is English. On the other hand, the South (which incidentally is the larger portion of Ireland) is known as the Irish Republic where Irish is marginalized and only spoken in Gaeltachts, Irish speaking villages. With this in mind, it must be noted that from the beginning of Ireland’s colonization, it has been in a process of Anglicization, where Irish is substituted by English.

In view of the Irish language debate, I would call for a restructuring of the Anglicized Irish language.

— I realize that it is not my place to propose how to do this—

However, I must give a description of the idyllic outcome of this linguistic restructuring, (“rebuilding”). If the restructuring were implemented, eventually Ireland would be a bilingual nation, where English and Irish would exist alongside one another. An example of a bilingual nation that had a similar debate is Paraguay; the Paraguayan people speak both Spanish and Paraguayan Guarani languages. They have succeeded in preserving native tradition, despite the passage of time.

During my time in Ireland, so far, I have seen that Ireland preserves its culture by taking pride in its academic achievements as embodied by Trinity College, NUIG and other universities. However, the country is lacking the conviction to protect its language and thereby risks losing part of its identity. As a closing note, I sign off with this final thought, “Tír gan teanga is tír gan anam” (a country without a language is a country without a soul).

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