Disability and I: Carly Bailey

Carly Bailey is a truly amazing woman. She is a Law and Political Science student at Trinity College Dublin, vice-chair of the Social Democrats, a proud mum, a political candidate for Dublin Southwest, and, on top of everything else, a person living with a disability.

Bailey’s journey into politics started out when she began studying to become a social care worker and from there entered Trinity through the Trinity Access Program (TAP). Bailey was diagnosed with otosclerosis before she entered college, and faced a lot of difficulty attending lectures and hearing in certain theatres or classrooms. Nonetheless, Bailey’s mind was opened to the world of politics and social justice, and she began to engage with the way in which this country works.

“I’ve always said that politics happen to me”, replied Bailey when I asked had she always been intent on pursuing a career in the area of social justice and politics. Bailey described how she glazed the news in her younger years, but never really became involved until she grew up, became a mother and had to start advocating for her family. “I never dreamed I’d be sitting here, having just announced that I’m running in a general election”, Bailey laughs.

Bailey touches on the lack of representation of people with disabilities in politics, especially women with disabilities, saying that, “stigma is a huge part of it”. Stigma is something that Bailey has struggled with throughout her life, not just in politics. “There’s a fear in peoples’ heads that if they’re told something is “wrong” with them, their life will stop” says Bailey as she describes how societal stigma and discrimination can inspire a lot of internalised self-loathing within people with disabilities. For this reason, people can be reluctant to speak openly about their disability, let alone embrace it.

Bailey is a proud mother of her two young children – a girl and a boy. Bailey’s son, Leon, was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. “I have a disability, and so does my little boy, but his needs will always come first and foremost with me”, Bailey said as she explains why her son’s special needs had such a profound impact on her political ideations. Whilst her son is kind, funny, has friends and has many abilities, Bailey sees an obvious issue with the way in which he struggles to interact, and wonders how this will impact him as he grows up. Supportive, inclusive education has allowed Leon to flourish, but the lack of services available to him for his autism is a huge problem. Bailey targets the problem of the scarcity of supports in a lot of her political work.

It wasn’t until Bailey was in her twenties that she began to be affected by her otosclerosis. Over the course of her two pregnancies, her condition worsened. “I struggled with it”, admits Bailey, “and it was all about the stigma and the shame and the idea that people with disabilities are different”. Bailey explained how she began being more open about her disability as her son grew up and became more aware of his disability and the supports that he needed to make him feel more accepted, to show him that everybody struggles with something and that “disability doesn’t always affect people in the same way; disability is such a massive spectrum”.

I took a moment to thank Bailey for representing Irish women with disabilities in the political sphere. I aim to forge some sort of social justice career for myself too, and seeing Bailey’s success is important to my motivation. Bailey and I simultaneously cringed at the word “role model” but she acknowledged and agreed with the importance of having somebody to look up to. Growing up, Bailey said that she never had a person in a situation similar to hers to look up to and she can only hope that her son can grow up with the support of autistic role models.

The abortion debate in Ireland over the past few months has drawn out some incredible campaigners and advocates – one of which was Bailey. Whilst celebrating the positive result of May’s referendum, Bailey says that the fight is not over quite yet and the next struggle will be tackling the proposed €300 cost of abortion pills. Bailey explains how the cost would exclude society’s most vulnerable from being able to access abortion. “Free, safe and legal isn’t a reality yet” says Bailey as she encourages campaigners and activists to keep fighting the good fight.

Now, drained after campaigning for repeal, Bailey plans to take a tiny break before bouncing straight back to the daily grind and addressing the issues surrounding the expense of abortion and how the house crisis is harming Ireland. Despite facing adversity, Bailey’s drive to change the country is evident, and has essentially fuelled her career. Without a doubt, this is only the beginning of Bailey’s political career, and there’s a lot ahead of her. Watch this space!


Follow Carly’s journey to the election and beyond here on Facebook  or Twitter 

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