A Derry mother has spoken of her own experience living with a disability as part of new research comissioned by the equality commission - ‘Working Together to close the gaps.’
Elizabeth Zammit says her experiences learning to live with a disability have given her insight into the everyday issues faced by disabled people – and a passion for promoting disability awareness.
At the age of 34, Elizabeth said her life was “normal.”
The Derry woman was expecting her second child, but within six weeks of the birth of her daughter, everything started to change.
“I was suddenly too sore to hold my newborn daughter.
“I needed assistance with everyday tasks and depended on my parents to help with everything while my husband was at work,” Elizabeth recalls.
As Elizabeth’s symptoms increased in severity, it took some months before a diagnosis was made.
“I was relieved to be told that I had psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis. I spent five long and difficult months in hospital,” says Elizabeth.
“But everything changed, I was sent home from hospital in a wheelchair that would fit in either the front nor back door of my house.
“I had to uproot my family from their home to move to a specially adapted bungalow.
“And until recently, I even had to conduct my banking business on the street because our local branch had no wheelchair access.”
Elizabeth refers to the lack of information or ‘sign-posting’ to tell her who to contact for advice as a huge challenge.
“There was no one person or place I could go to for advice on how to adjust to my new lifestyle or to come to terms with this life-changing disability.”
Now a committed campaigner, Elizabeth uses her own experiences to help others by raising awareness of the barriers that she has faced - in fact she now advises many statutory bodies and groups on what issues they should consider to assist people with a disability.
Her impressive CV includes advising the Police Service for Northern Ireland, Derry City Council, Translink and ECNI.
She is also a member of the REAL Network (Rights, Empowerment, Action and Lobbying).
She says, “I have attended events at Stormont, invited there by our politicians.
“It is a stunning building and I was impressed by its grandeur, but its lack of accessibility has not gone unnoticed!”
She is adamant that awareness raising is the key to making real change for everyone with a disability.
“I am reliant on a wheelchair but I will not let my disability define me,” she says.
“I’m still the same person, I still like Chinese food and still love Cliff Richard all these years later!
“It’s only my joints that don’t work so well anymore.
“I have a wonderful loving family who support me.
“They won’t let me sit in the corner for someone to come along and dust me off every so often – I have a life and I’m living it!”
Her passion and commitment is raising awareness to improve the lives of those with a disability. Making a real difference is where Elizabeth sources her sense of achievement.