Post by Sinead Kane – an Irish Solicitor (Lawyer), PhD Researcher, Motivational Speaker, Marathon Runner, Writer for the Irish Criminal Law Journal, and Advocate for the Visually Impaired
Most successful people only achieve their goals through encountering obstacles, having doors closed in their faces, and having dreams derailed by mistakes. The difference between those who have won and those who have thrown up their hands in defeat is often the level of persistence and determination the person possesses in tough times. Staying upright in a world full of chaos is hard, but we can still win out if we believe we can.
From a very early age I have learnt what it means to be resilient in life, as my parents taught me the importance of integrity, honesty, and being an advocate. I grew up in a family where we were all visually impaired. My mum is totally blind. My dad, my sister, and I are all registered as blind but we each have a small bit of vision. At four years old I discovered that I was different. I couldn’t see the TV and so went very close to it and hit my nose against the screen. The static from the TV gave me a shock and I got upset. My parents sat me and my sister down and told us that we had very bad sight and that we would be like this for our whole life. They told us we would be different from other kids and that we would need to see things up close. What I learnt from my parents was that it is okay to be different, and to just be true to myself and be the best version of me that I could be.
I was born with just 5% vision. I am registered as legally blind. I don’t use a guide dog, but I do use a white cane. My eye conditions are aniridia, coloboma, nystagmus, and glaucoma. I can’t control how I was born, but I can control my outlook and attitude in life. When I was child I was severely bullied due to my disability, and this continued into my teen years. I was made to feel ashamed of myself and at the time I would think that if I could just change myself, then I would be accepted. What I have learnt from my life so far, however, is that the best gift you can give yourself is self-acceptance. Today I am proud to have a disability. I don’t allow people to make me feel ashamed or put me down.
From a very young age I watched as my mother campaigned for the rights of guide dog owners and visually impaired people. As a child I used to go with my mum to government buildings and government ministers to lobby for rights for people with disabilities. My mother always taught me the importance of standing up for your rights and not allowing people to discriminate against me because of my disability.
For many years in school I didn’t have a positive mind set and I didn’t believe that I could achieve any goals, but the pendulum swung at age 17. My career advisor/teacher at school told me that law would be too hard and not to do it, so I decided to prove her wrong. I went to college, got a Master’s degree in Law, and then qualified as Ireland’s first visually impaired solicitor (lawyer) in 2009.
It wasn’t easy. In college, not only did I have pains in my eyes but I also had pains in my lower back from bending over and trying to study with a magnifying glass. My confidence at one point got very low, so my mum surprised me by bringing me to London to meet some blind legal professionals. I came back to Ireland full of confidence because I thought to myself, “If they can do it, then so can I!”
My interest in law from an early age and my early experience of bullying in school has led me to pursue my current goal: acquiring a PhD in the area of bullying and law. I currently attend Dublin City University, where the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre (ABC) is located.
I intend to write a case study that will 1) analyse Massachusetts’ anti-bullying legislation (which was signed into law in May 2010) from the perspective of whether it places too heavy a duty of care on teachers/schools and 2) to see whether the development, structure, and content of that law could be applied and implemented in Ireland. To fulfill this goal I plan to study and carry out research in Boston for a period of up to six months, although I do not yet know exactly when.
Due to my disability, it will be very scary for me to go to a foreign country by myself and try to navigate my way around. However, fear is normal, and success lies in discomfort. It takes courage to be successful.
I have always had a passion for helping others, and so I also plan to continue my volunteer work. Since an early age I have volunteered with different organisations, such as Irish Guide Dogs, the National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI), the Caring and Sharing Association (CASA), the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), and ChildVision. I am also a director of Ablevision Ireland.
I am also interested in motivating and inspiring people – especially young people – to be the best versions of themselves they can be and to be role models for others. Hence, I set up my own website for that purpose in 2011, called The Kane Ability. I like to inspire young students by giving motivational talks at schools, and I have spoken for both national and international companies, such as Pfizer and EMC. In 2012, I sat on a panel discussion for the International Bar Association, and I have appeared in a number of local and national Irish newspapers and documentaries. I love any opportunity I get to spread my message of positivity.
Fitness is important to me as well. I recently completed my first marathon, becoming the first visually impaired female to complete the Dublin Marathon! Next up, my coach John O’Regan, an extremely experience ultra runner, has a challenge set for me. I am not announcing just yet what the challenge is yet, but it will be abroad and it will really test my physical and mental strength.
The guys at Irish Runner Magazine have also been very good to me in encouraging me to go forward and complete my goals. Frank Greally, their Editor, has told me that he believes in me and sees my ability, not my disability. I think in life it’s important to surround yourself with positive people and people who believe in you.
My motto is “Believe in Yourself. Anything is Possible.” I choose to be visionary, not blind. I have bounced back from many adversities. I have overcome many obstacles and have succeeded against all the odds that have been stacked against me. I am a great believer in finding opportunities, experiencing life, and not allowing my disability to hold me back. Too many people are not living their dreams because of fear.
My final message: be positive, patient and persistent. Focus on your future, not your past. Life at times will knock you down, but it’s not about the knockdowns; it’s the getting back up that defines who you are.