Louise Bruton is a wheelchair user. She’s also gas craic. She has a bespoke prosthetic leg called “Priscilla” which she says “didn’t cost and arm and a leg, just a foot.” She is a very successful journalist and Ted X Talker (you can watch her here).
On her website ‘Legless in Dublin’ , Louise rates public places in Dublin based on how accessible they are. She also educates the rest of us on what it’s like to be a wheelchair user, and what the day to day challenges are. She is never preachy, nor judgemental, and her tone will make you want to be her friend.
However, at TSP, we were worried recently when we saw this tweet…
Last one on the train in Heuston. Not a staff member or ramp in sight. Doors have been closed again. Guess I live here now.
— Louise Bruton (@luberachi) November 9, 2016
Louise, you only started using a wheelchair full time in your early 20’s. How did this come about?
I was born with a walking disability which meant that I used crutches from when I first started walking until I was about 23. The strength and power in my legs decreased over the years and by the time I was in my 20s, I had to start seriously considering using a wheelchair. I delayed this probably longer than I should have because I was afraid that people would treat me differently if I used a wheelchair but I was proved wrong. Making the move to a wheelchair ended up making life a lot easier for me as I was putting myself under serious physical strain using the crutches.
Apart from the daily practical challenges that you face, do you feel that your wheelchair has affected your ability to achieve your goals?
I don’t think that my wheelchair has affected my ability to achieve my goals in anyway. If my wheelchair is ever an issue in doing something, like inaccessible buildings or bad attitudes, that is something I work towards changing. It’s hard to know if my life would be different if I didn’t have the wheelchair but I’ve managed to make access and disability such a big part of my life, something I would not have embraced when I used the crutches, so it has helped me develop a more positive and proactive attitude towards life and work.
Do you feel that people treat you ‘differently’ when you meet them first and of so, how so?
I’ve surrounded myself with a very diverse and incredible bunch of people so the majority of new people I meet are sound. I find that people of an older generation treat me differently because years ago in Ireland, disabled people did not mix with other people or were viewed as outcasts and that idea remains with some people. Thankfully, that attitude is dying out and I view Ireland as a young, progressive country and people are more willing to listen to other people’s life experiences. We’ve become more understanding as a country and you can see it so clearly in younger generations. We’re doing well!
Do people ever patronise you with the best of intentions?
When people patronise me, they are coming from a good place. They want to help and can step in without asking me, fussing or mothering, which can be quite frustrating. Someone once told me that when people do that, it’s because they couldn’t possibly imagine coping in my position so they overcompensate with help.
What would you like people to know about wheelchair users?
The needs and abilities of wheelchair users vary greatly so you can’t assume anything about anyone. If you think we need help, ask; don’t rush in. I realise that we often surprise people with the alternatives we come up with to undertake tasks.
Would you call yourself an activist? Is that a decision you made, or did you just find yourself in this position?
I’ve sort of fallen into the role of an activist. It was never my intention when I first starting writing about my experiences as a wheelchair user but I know that access and disability are issues we need to discuss more and I’m happy to keep on doing that.
If so, do you embrace it? How do you intend to use the voice that you have, now that people are starting to listen?
I’m very careful to let people know that my experiences do not speak for everybody with a disability. It’s very important for people to realise that disability is just a blanket term for multiple physical and mental disabilities and, with that, I’d love if we could hear more voices discussing disability, covering all angles.
If you want to learn more, you can follow Louise @luberachi or @LeglessinDublin