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“Cherish all of the Children of the nation equally” – Joanne O’Riordan speech to Sinn Féin Summer School 2013

29 June, 2013


Good evening everybody, my name is Joanne O’ Riordan and firstly I’d like to thank Sinn Fein and other individuals for inviting me here to speak with you this evening.

As you can see I was born without my limbs but my motto in life is No limbs No Limits. This week for so many people up and down the country it has been a hard, tedious week with the new revelations of how the Bankers almost single handily destroyed this country. Further to that it was extremely upsetting to learn that people with disabilities are going to be hit with yet another cut to their special needs hours.

It would appear that the society I live in and the society we choose to accept has far less value and respect for the ordinary, hard working citizens of this country.

Time and time again we see how the Government has tried to control and manipulate its own citizens into thinking that we need to take these cuts, that it is the best for our country as a whole if we do.

I would love the Taoiseach of this country to live the life I lead. I would love the Bankers of this country to wake up one and realise what they have done has not only destroyed our country but it has resulted in many vulnerable people becoming more and more isolated and dependent.   

However, I’m asking people who are here to start challenging this. All my life I faced and overcome enormous difficulties and as a result my life has changed for the better.

The disability I have is known as Total Amelia. There is no medical explanation as to why I was born this way but I or indeed my family have never allowed it to hold me back.

We should never allow anyone to hold us back because we all want to live a life that fair, honest and just. The only difference is we allow others to take control.

The only person who is control in my life and my destiny is me.  

I’m literally only one of seven people in the world living with this rare physical form and I can safely say it does not make me different; It simply makes me unique!

When I was born in 1996 there was no medical help available to me that was sufficient to my needs. There was no there to support my family and effetely I had to rely on the support of my family and friends. This has been instrumental in building a world around me that allows me to take full control of my life.

From an early age I’ve had a massive reliance on the use of technology. Technology has opened up a world of possibilities to me for which I have excelled in both my education and social environment around me.

It is sad therefore to think that there are many other living in this country who do not have the luxuries I have even though we live in a so called developed and civil part of the world.

It would appear today that the government would like people like me to be seen and not heard. I may not have my limbs but certainly have my voice and I intend to use that help empower all.

I could have easily ended up in an institution never realising my full potential. I could have succumbed to a system that would have neglected and forgotten me. I could have become voiceless another human statistic like so many people who live in this country today.   

It is not easy to wake up every morning and rely on somebody to get you out of bed, make your breakfast, change your clothes or get you ready for school. It is not fair that the government can constantly makes cuts to the weakest in society while it allows others to live on big bonuses, golden handshakes and pension entitlements that go way beyond a realistic expectation.

These are the very people who have adversely shattered our country and embarrassed us on an international stage.

I like so many others out there am the future of this country;

I can offer what no banker can offer; a chance to fix this country for the better.

I like so many young people are the brains and fuel that could drive this economy back to positivity but instead our government are for people like me and others to emigrate.

They are happy for us to the build the futures of others countries while we continue to suffer.

We all have a choice and we all have a voice, it is just some people are afraid or not encouraged to use it.

Imagine living a life whereby you need someone to help you scratch your nose, rub your eyes or simply move you from place to place?

Imagine living a life whereby people freely and openly try to discriminate against you day after day. This is the life that some if not all people with disabilities has to bare but I know that if we stand united we can overcome and we will allow change.  

When I was younger we had enormous difficulty in transforming the local community and environment around me.

It took years to convince our local County Council to ramp public buildings or footpaths. Further to that there was no wheelchair spaces in my town until one day we as a family decided enough is enough. If we all decided enough was enough and we all spoke with one voice the government just might listen to us.

For far too long people with disabilities have stood on the fringes of Irish society, we have been neglected and forgotten by the very people who are to help us, we can no longer live like this we can no longer accept a lesser value to our life’s because we deserve better.

What people don’t seem to realise is that we are all born with disabilities, it is just some are more obvious than others.

We all have a role in society and each of us should be trying to make life easier for others not harder.

Some of the great heroes fought and died for this country. They no wireless no internet access, no Ipods and Ipads but what they did have a grit and a determination to achieve better for its people.

How was it possible that in 1916 men and women who were far less educated than us that had little no mean means of mass communication could take on one the biggest empires of the world and yet the people of Ireland today can’t?

This does not make sense!  

This is why in 2011 I decided that I was going to try and do something to help people with disabilities in Ireland.

I felt at the time we had no voice and I knew I had the power to change this.

I took on the Irish Government and got them to reverse a cut they were going to make to the disability payment.

It soon became apparent that my approach and my choice were very welcome and refreshing to the wider public.

The women from the Magdalene laundries have done the same. In order to evoke change we must believe in change.  

In 2012 was invited to New York by the United Nations to address the world’s leading women in technology. I was asked to challenge the world to do something for me and I saw this as a great opportunity to enhance my independence further.

The task was simple and the challenge some would deem impossible.

I have always wanted a robot and I knew that this was my chance to get people thinking and talking and guess what it worked.

We are all presented with opportunities to lives better lives it’s just that some people are afraid to do so. As American President Franklin D Roosevelt once said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”   

Life is about living and just because I have no limbs does not mean I will be limited.

Lots of people seem to think that if you have a disability you must sit in a corner all day every day watching the world go by, voiceless!

I can certainly say that in my life and I hope in the lives of others we do not allow this false perception to take over.

As a society we cannot become complacent and we need to ensure that every citizen, not just in Ireland, but across the world is treated with the same level of respect irrespective of their ability! 

We should be empowering every individual to be the best they can be and we should be encouraging an ethos of independence in both mind and physicality.

There are many great Irish men and women who have done this over the years through Arts culture, Politics and Science.   

We all deserve a quality of life but there are many challenges we face and the biggest challenge I face is the fight to remain independent.

We fought for independence once and we won. If we have to fight it again then so be it but we should not sit back and allow people in power or people who mistreat power to get away without take responsibility.  

People often misjudge me and my ability but believe it or not I can do most things any able bodied person can do.

I send texts, tweets, update my Facebook status and do my homework with the flick of my chin, top and bottom lip, along my left hand, as I like to call it.

I have been given the chance in life to explore the world around me and with it I have taken on that world to make my own journey through life.

Yes, there are times when I’m down, yes there are times when I fail but like most people I do not see failure as a limitation, I merely see it as an obstacle I can and will overcome.

This is why it upsets me to think that people can never see beyond the word disability in order to see our true ability!

I like my brothers and sisters, play my Play Station, Nintendo DS, IPOD, IPAD and Laptop. I can type 36 words a minute and for some with no limbs that is an incredible achievement in itself. 

My imperfections have allowed me to be a better person, a more knowledgeable person, with a greater understanding of what I want or need in life.

Before I came here today I looked up the Irish Proclamation and there is a part in it, which I feel is fundamental to how I think.

It is a phrase that should be used and seen in every school, workplace and home throughout Ireland.

It says we as a country should “Cherish all of the Children of the nation equally”

The society I currently live in does not promote this value.  

I seem to live in a country that is obsessed with segregating and isolating people. I live in a country whereby we constantly out ourselves down and for what?

We are a great country and we are a special country but we should not allow a handful of people get away with making our country a disgrace.  

We appear so self conscious on what other people think that we forget about why we are all here in the first place.

I want to grow up in a world that is inclusive not just for me but for everyone. I want to grow up in a world that allows me the freedom to be the person I know I can be.

These are the same values as those men women and children who fought for our country. They are not the standards we live by today.

I could have easily fallen into the trap of being taken to a special needs school but Instead my family went against this.

It has empowered me to know and ultimately understand that I’m not different, I’m just the same as everyone else and like everyone else I will achieve all my goals and ambition if we are given the chance to do so.

Limbless or otherwise I know that I have something to offer to my society.

People seem to measure equality in different ways and more often than not it is the people at the bottom who are perceived to be the weakest that suffer the most.

If we stopped to think and listen to these people and what they have to say, then maybe these are the individuals that will enlighten us to a world of possibilities that has no limitations and no obstacles.

I wake up each and everyday and think to myself if I can do this now what is it that I will be able to achieve in the future?  

This is why I was delighted to win the Rehab young person of the Year Award in 2012. For me it was an acknowledgment that let me understand that, what I’m doing is worthwhile and people with disabilities can make a change!

We all have a responsibility to ensure the laws we pass are inclusive for every individual.

People with disabilities should not have to fight for the right to be independent.

People with disabilities should not live in fear or anxiety.

The legislators of our county and the people who have the power to protect us should be ensuring that any law which is passed is a progressive one that will enhance the quality of ones life and not take from it.

In the last few years we have seen how the Irish Government have been ruthless in trying to cut mobility allowance, SNA cuts and disability payments.

Let us hope that by coming here tonight that you will go back to your home thinking that in fact that mindset is wrong.

In relation to the SNA Cuts, I believe they are a disgrace and it is disgusting that they are disgusting they are targetting the most vulnerable.

School is meant to be the happiest days of our lives but for too many people school is not.

We need to change this by changing our attitude on how we teach and look at children. Primary school is the key ingredient to allow young people the best start in their education.

By allowing schools to have a more inclusive ethos this in turn will allow people and kids like me to feel that they too can achieve.

One of the most crucial developments within school is that of Special Needs assistants.

These individuals are the life line for any person who has a disability. They help them with basic tasks and they allow us to get on with our job of learning, without my Special needs assistant, I’m not sure I would be where I am today because she is a vital source within my school.   

She helps me to open my laptop, turn my pages or helps me to pick up my pen when it falls. If I or other children did not have this assistance it would be safe to say that I may not have been allowed to go to a main stream school.

This person also allows me to keep up with all my other friends in the class room.

Notwithstanding this, I can safely say that everybody In my school takes into account my needs but I know that I’m extremely lucky to have this.

I equally know that there are some schools in Ireland that cannot provide this or are prevented from doing so. It is so important that we do not allow people. We should never allow money to dictate what sort of an education we provide.

This could have disastrous effects on people who have disabilities and we need to make sure that this never happens.   

Also, I’m very grateful to have the books formatted so they’re easicly accessible. Without my parents fighting for the books and without Christine O’ Mahoney I would still be struggling trying to keep text books open and I’d probably fall behind. The books are on a memory stick and my textbooks are linked up to Microsoft Word which I like to call my copybooks. I am now included in all school activities like everybody else.

The more inclusive we make schools the better environment we create. This allows young people the opportunity to grow and develop I a way that is invaluable, And while theory based schooling and learning is very important, we must not forget the importance of practical learning too.

People need to stop and think of the implications that this will have not just on me but other like me.
 
I would ask anybody here today to walk a mile in my shoes and when they do they might realise the significance of this help.

People all over the country are crying out for change.

My aim in life is to help make that change happen. This is why I want to become a journalist. It will provide me with an outlet for my voice and the voice of other people with disabilities to be heard. 

Change is instrumental in allowing us all to life a life that is equal.

It is such a pity that those who are elected to Office or serve as TD’s cannot see this too.

If there is one thing you take away from me this evening, I hope it is this.

There is no obstacle in life only you. We all have the power to make a change; just like Kevin Barry, the Hunger strike victims and many more besides them. It is just that some need more help than others along the way.

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