Rosalie Sugrue

A Personal Story – Rosalie Sugrue

I was born with congenital dislocated hips, not that anyone realised this until I was two and half and barely walking. 12 months hospital ‘corrected’ this to the extent that as a child and youth I was simply considered non athletic - the kid picked last when child leaders named teams. In-your-face impairment was delayed until arthritis set in a few years after the birth of 3 children. Even so, despite hip operations I was able to return to teaching and run a small motel with my husband.

Being mobility impaired has prevented me from doing some things I would like to do eg - go for long walks, ride a bicycle, run and play hopscotch with my grandkids but there are so many things to do in life, it isn’t a great bother – I can drive a car, ride an adult tricycle and play board games with my grandkids. You have to cut your cloth according to the fabric. My pleasures are geared to thinking, talking and writing. So I lead U3A groups and write – novels, stories, poems, letters, sermons...

I find the general public very accepting of impairment. If I’m seen struggling with a suitcase or groceries help is offered. People give up seats on public transport. Speaking generally most people are aware and kind, and should I need help I don’t mind asking for it. Most public buildings provide ramps, accommodation providers in central Wellington being a glaring exception to this general attitude 

My husband has Alzheimers that manifests in him having no short term memory for anything that happened over two minutes ago. I have only ever found people caring and sensitive in their response to him.

But there is discrimination out there and in unlikely places. It was no problem to a school that for one term I had to teach a junior class while tied to 2 crutches. But years later after further operations it became obvious I would be permanently reliant on a single crutch. Who did this bother most? None other than the church I belonged to!

This church had discriminated against the mobility impaired since it opened (in the 1980s) by neglecting to provide suitable rails on both sides of its steep access path. For years I had tried to get this matter righted to no avail. Due to this and other incidents, eg avoiding providing mobility parks, along with other issues, such as banning a man of uncomely appearance, I came to the conclusion that in unspoken reality this ‘well heeled’ congregation did not want people who looked different attending its services.

On a personal level this was confirmed by the fact that the parish was pleased for me to take services for them as an accredited lay preacher, leading 80 services between 1999 and 2006. But when I appeared in the pulpit with a crutch the parish council and minister no longer wanted me in this role. No other parish has behaved this way and I certainly feel valued in all the other places where I lead services.

That particular minister and most members of that parish council have moved on, but regardless no attempt has been made to welcome mobility impaired people. Extensions have resulted in adding new steps without rails. Despite large amounts of money being spent on the property, the steep access path remains unfenced and dangerous. There are no mobility parks, not even grab-bars in toilet cubicles. I have a husband’s arm should I need extra support, but every week I suffer by seeing elderly people struggle with the access path. Eventually they stop attending. No one in authority seems to care.