Host in his own comedy show

I wait for Paddy Smyth outside the Westbury Hotel in the heart of Dublin. I see him arrive, walking with his crutches. He does it without any difficulty and very fast. Also taking the stairs to the elevators turns out not to be a problem at all. ‘Maybe, it shouldn’t be that easy, but I’m so used to doing it. Accessibility difficulties don’t affect me any longer’, he will say later. That’s his attitude he expresses throughout the interview. His disability is part of him and he doesn’t make a too big problem of it. To the contrary, he shows his life with a disability on purpose on social media.

 

Paddy, 28, was born with cerebral palsy, due to a too early birth (two months in advance). The diagnose of cerebral palsy didn’t come before he was 2 ½ years old and had impact on his first years in education. ‘I was sent to a special school where I was treated as a special person. That’s not the good way. I went to a normal school when I was eight, but had an arrearage because of those years in special education.’ After secondary school, Paddy decided to study communication and media. In this field he had different kinds of jobs. ‘I was one of the organizers of  Beyoncé’s after party in London. I worked in my dad’s company, I was involved in the London Paralympics of 2014. Now, I work as an account manager for a software company in Dublin. I love my current job. I’m building my skills and it feels like I have to prove myself. It’s a challenge.’

Creating a movement on Snapchat

Paddy’s heart lies with being active on social media. He’s especially active on Snapchat where he posts short clips about his own life as a person with a disability. Most clips are made for fun, but they always have a serious undertone. ‘I live my own life. Every disability is different. I show mine in all vulnerability. The videos are about accessibility matters or personal matters like dating. I’ve had no success in dating yet and I tell about that too.’

I understood you are homosexual. How does the homo scene get along with disabled people?

‘The scene itself is positive towards people with a disability. Homos and disabled are both a minority in Ireland, so there’s an understanding. Being a small community, it’s difficult to find a partner though. I once met one guy who also has a disability. I’m not especially looking for someone like me. Whether he’s disabled or not doesn’t matter to me. I’m a very social person. I go out a lot, which is not always easy, but I can still walk the stairs.’

From the way Paddy talks about his life and how he copes with his disability at this point in the interview it seems he doesn’t bother about it much. We shortly discuss the mental difficulty of living with a disability. I meet him while the Paralympics are being held in Rio. I tell him about Belgian Paralympic Marieke Vervoort who experiences so much pain by her disability each day she already has decided to ask for euthanasia should she not be capable or prepared anymore to stand the pain one day. Paddy understands the thought, but says again that every disability is different and that he concentrates on his own story he wishes to tell by the videos. Which is of course logical.

 ‘What I try to reach with my snapchat videos is to show people the real side of living with a disability as I experience it. I want to get rid of the stigma on disability. Non-disabled Irish are ignorant towards their disabled fellow citizens. They don’t know how to interact with them. To give you an example. I took some driving lessons. It was not a big success, also because of the fact they were only possible during daytimes since the driving instructor guessed I would not work. The stigma makes we have to do all things ourselves and often feel we don’t get a chance. I want to create a movement to change the attitude towards each other. To show the world that the life of a person with a disability can be as much as fun like that of a non-disabled. That’s my main motivation for being on Snapchat. Most reactions to my videos are positive, some negative. The negative ones say I behave too extraordinarily.

‘I love Snapchat. It’s like you are a host in your own comedy show. It is raw, nasty. You see life through a camera. I hope I can make a difference through my videos. That I open up the world to more diversity. I would love to become a chat show host on television once. There are not many disabled people on television. Through Snapchat I’ve learned to understand myself. I’m getting stronger by making those videos. Until then, I was missing a part of myself. Social media gave me a purpose in life.’

Social media are not always a stable means of media. New initiatives come and go. Paddy doesn’t worry about that. ‘If Snapchat should only be something temporarily, then it is. I’ve only been on it since one year and never thought I would get all this attention. I hope to make a difference with my online activities and to reach both disabled and non-disabled.’

Paddy’s videos tell about accessibility matters in an indirect way as well. Although he seems to move around in Dublin without too many difficulties, he’s not satisfied with the accessibility of the town. ‘There are steps and stairs everywhere. For people in a wheelchair, that’s a big problem. The city does its best for us, but it’s not enough. At least, that’s my opinion. Dublin is not the best city to live in and not the worst. There’s still a long way to go. Getting a better accessibility is something I try to work on too.’

Should you be on Snapchat as well, search for Paddy’s videos through typing @paddyysmyth in the search field. He co-operates with @disabilityinequality. Some of his videos can also be found on YouTube, for instance these ones. Paddy in his frivolous way and his serious person.

 

 Paddy testing his new crutches

 


Paddy on his life with a disability