AT Leaders: Meet Catherine
Catherine manages her own services through AT. Recently, she kindly agreed to answer some questions about her experience of Direct Payments and about life in general.
Tell me something about yourself.
My name is Catherine Shortt. I live in Cork but I’m originally from Tipperary. I came to Cork to go to college and 15 years later I’m still here. I have my own house and apart from my Personal Assistants, I live alone. I work part time for the Citizens Information Phone Service as an Information Officer.
Would you describe yourself as an activist?
I don’t know if I would call myself an activist. I have never been involved in any political campaigns or protests. However, as a disabled person I have always fought for equality, independence, self-determination and over-all improved living conditions. As part of this I am on the boards of two separate disability organisations, in addition to my own company which I established as part of AT / Direct Payments.
I have always wanted to be independent and to make a contribution to society like any other person, and I constantly battle towards that. So if that makes me an activist then I am!
Was the decision to transfer to ÁT / Direct Payments a difficult one?
The actual decision was an easy one. I first heard of Direct Payments about 6 years ago when it was literally a pipe dream and from that day I knew it’s what I wanted. I saw what AT were doing and I immediately wanted to be a part of it. Whilst I have always had a PA and Home Help service, support was quite restrictive and did not allow me much freedom.
For example, Home Help workers could not accompany me outside of the home and the PA service did not allow flexibility with regards to how I utilised my hours. I also had no control over recruitment and who I could have in my house. Any decisions I wanted to make concerning my own life had to be approved by somebody else.
I always knew Direct Payments would take away those restrictions and allow me to be fully independent. So there was no question but that I wanted to transfer to Direct Payments.
What practical difference has receiving a Direct Payments made?
I now have a service structured around my life rather than the other way around and there is a level of flexibility that I did not have before. The Personal Assistants that work with me have all been personally chosen by me. They know my needs and my lifestyle and help me to live a full and independent life in line with what I want.
My quality of life has greatly improved. To provide practical examples, I can now go shopping when I want instead of opting for home deliveries which was an extra cost. I can now go to physiotherapy, swimming, the doctor and other appointments whenever it suits because I can arrange for a Personal Assistant to accompany me. I can be more spontaneous; I have more freedom in what I do day to day. I now socialise and meet friends more freely since I can organise my own hours without looking for permission.
I feel 100 times more independent than I ever did. I can now make plans and do whatever suits me. I have a level of control over my life that I never thought possible. I am more sociable and outgoing because now I can make plans and become more involved in society. I am more motivated because I have the ability to achieve more than I could have done prior to Direct Payments.
Where do you see yourself in 3 years and how will Direct Payments help you to get there?
Living a full and independent life, free of external controls and other people deciding what I should do. There will always be limitations with a disability, but they should not prevent me from having the same opportunities as any other person.
I want to be permanent in my current job. I want to still be in my own home, living in the community. I want to have friends and a social life. I want to make a contribution by helping others to experience the independence I have been so fortunate to enjoy.
This can only be achieved through the continuing provision of Direct Payments. Without the ability to direct my own life, I wouldn’t be able to hold down a job and I couldn’t participate in society to the extent I am now.
If Direct Payments were more widely available, (how) would Ireland be a different place?
Ireland would be a country where disabled people are treated as equal citizens. There is a view out there that people with disabilities are unable to work or contribute to society because of their disability. But more often than not, their ability to work is based on the supports available. Lack of adequate supports prevent disabled people from participating in society.
For example, I am more than capable of living in the community; I am more than capable of working; I am more than capable of leading a full and active life. But without PAs I would not be capable at all. And I know of many more people for whom this is the case.
If Direct Payments were to become more widely available, disabled people would be better equipped to demonstrate their true capabilities and to offer a meaningful contribution to society.
As a result, attitudes towards disabled people might change for the better and rather than be regarded as burdens or a drain on resources, we could be regarded as fully functioning members of society.
What would you say to others thinking about going the Direct Payments route?
I have only two words: Do It!
It is challenging, it is daunting and there is, at the start, a lot of work; but that is what your Circle of Support is for. You can have as little or as much help as you feel you need, and the AT Network are with you every step of the way.
If I am honest, there were times when I felt a bit overwhelmed and slightly scared. But I only have to see the difference in my life to know it is absolutely the best thing I have ever done.
Apparently, I was the first person in Cork to undertake this venture, but I hope I am not the last. If I have one wish it is to see Direct Payments become mainstreamed nationwide so that it will be a standard support available to those who need it.
But this can only happen if more people come on board. So again, do it! You absolutely will not regret it.
A huge thank you to Catherine for taking part. An edited version of this interview will appear in our upcoming 2015 Annual Report.