For disabled migrants and those living between cultures, too often our stories and rights are invisible in immigration conversations, and invisible in disability conversations. Moving and living between places and cultures can be exhilarating and overwhelming, fruitful and stressful. When we add disability to the mix, it’s even more complex.
My name is Áine Kelly-Costello. I’m a blind, chronically ill creative and campaigner and, as a disabled migrant myself, I’m starting a new podcast and blog because I want this invisibility to change. The show is called Disability Crosses Borders and it’s a home for the stories where disability, migration and culture meet.
My own experiences have both fuelled my interest in these stories and made me acutely aware of their under-representation. I grew up in Ireland, Canada and, since age nine, Aotearoa New Zealand. My mother grew up to Scottish parents in Canada. My father is Irish. More recently, I’ve also lived and studied in Spain and Sweden, and I’m currently living in northern Norway.
Of course, as a disabled person, disability is always a factor in these migration and travel decisions. As a blind kid, when my father would be searching for work, my parents also carefully researched the availability of blindness services and supports in deciding where we would live. Little did they know that New Zealand’s immigration policy categorises disabled people ruthlessly based on our perceived potential cost to education and health services. Because of that, specifically my automatic eligibility for education support funding, my family came very close to needing to leave the country when I was 11. It was a secret they kept from me for a decade, not wanting to place that burden on a child, and I’m grateful for that.
The main reason I’ve ended up in Norway now, living with my parents who moved here, is connected to disability in another way. When the pandemic hit, I got sick with Covid, while living in Sweden. Its tail of lasting symptoms became a chronic illness, Long Covid. Moving in with my parents in Norway has meant I’ve got wonderful, much needed and appreciated, family and financial support. But, as for many disabled people worldwide sheltering during the pandemic, I’m also dislocated from the friends and communities that I work with, organise with and, frankly, miss hanging out with, especially in Aotearoa New Zealand. So, what better time to connect across borders and start a global podcast and blog about disability, migration and culture!
As disabled migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and people living between cultures, I want us to have a safe and constructive forum to share our lived experience and to find community through mapping our collective struggles and wisdom. That includes naming the policies, prejudices and systems that have failed us, talking about how they developed, and how we can change them. If you’re reading this as a family member, friend, employer, advocacy organisation, immigration official or a politician, I’m glad you’re here. Please listen, read, reflect and share. You have an important role to play in amplifying our stories and creating cultures, laws and countries that truly value us.
Please subscribe to Disability Crosses Borders. Each episode is also summarised and transcribed in writing.
You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m especially keen to hear from disabled people/persons with disabilities, including mental illness, who are the most marginalised within these conversations, including people with learning disabilities or multiple disabilities, refugees, asylum seekers, forcibly displaced people an people with disabilities from the global south.
Written by Áine Kelly-Costello. Áine is a disabled creative and campaigner from Aotearoa New Zealand based in Norway. She is currently volunteering with ENIL.