2003- European Year of People with Disabilities

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The coming year is a time to celebrate the courage of the disabled, says Gerry Ahern

Along with being European Year of People with Disabilities (EYPD), 2003 will also see the Special Olympics Games being held in Ireland for the first time. Communities all over Ireland will play host to athletes from over 180 countries.

Croke Park will be the venue for the televised opening ceremonies, which will be watched by 2 billion viewers worldwide.

Mention disability and actor Christopher Reeve, star of the Superman series of films, and former Irish jockey Shane Broderick immediately come to mind as both were disabled some years ago in riding accidents. Both have shown tremendous courage in their daily efforts to try and live as full a life as possible.

This same courage is displayed daily by people with disabilities in communities all over Ireland as they try and cope with their intellectual, physical, and sensory impairments.

Winds of change

Over the last number of years there have been sweeping changes in attitudes to the care, education, training and place of the disabled in Irish society. This is only proper because for far too long they were pushed to the margins of our society where their rights were totally ignored. Hopefully these rights will be enshrined in a comprehensive Disability Act promised by the Government next year.

Carers now demand that their children be fully integrated into the educational and social life of their own community. They want to be properly trained to assist their children to live a dignified and full life. Courses on Assertiveness should be a priority for both carers and the disabled. Athenry Carers’ greatest need is for regular respite care. It would be a wonderful achievement if this could be provided locally in a suitable house. Other communities have done it. The goodwill is there so why not Athenry?

Employment difficulties

Gainful employment is a big problem for the disabled. Government target numbers for employing the disabled are not being achieved. Recently the Minister for Labour Affairs, Frank Fahy T.D, called on employers to recognize that people with disabilities can make an equal contribution to the workforce. It would be wonderful and very progressive if Athenry disabled people could be give opportunities to work in local business. It would take some planning but it could be done.

Next year will see the opening of the Brothers of Charity workshop in Raheen where training will be provided for the disabled and hopefully this will be a step on the road to achieving this goal.

Support

Rehab, the Brothers of Charity, the Western Health Board, primary and secondary schools and others are affirmed for their professional input into the training and care of the disabled. Praise is also due to the many local people who fund raise for the national organizations who provide practical assistance and support.

The lrish Pilgrimage Trust deserves special acclaim for their work in providing visits to Lourdes. Soilse – Athenry friends of people with special needs – are to be highly commended for the holidays, outings and social evenings enjoyed over the years.

The objectives of EYPD are to encourage ideas and initiatives to promote equal opportunities for disabled people in Europe; to reinforce the cooperation between all parties concerned, namely   government, private sector, community, voluntary sector, people with disabilities and their families; and to highlight the positive contribution that people with disabilities make to society.

Example

American Helen Keller, who was born blind and deaf, is an outstanding example of what a disabled person can achieve with education, training, patience and perseverance. She lectured in university and led a very full and enjoyable life. She is often quoted as saying —‘Life is one great adventure or it is nothing at all’.

Great strides forward have been made in helping the disabled but a long road has yet to be travelled to achieve full equality in Irish society.

Gerry Ahern is a retired Principal Teacher who does voluntary work for ADC and the community.

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About this record

Written by Gerry Ahern

Published here 27 Jul 2023 and originally published Winter 2002

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