Winds of Change

By Áine Mc Donnell

“We cannot change the wind but we can adjust the sails” this is a quote from Stephen Cluskey who was a guest speaker at Irish Wheelchair Association’s (IWA) AGM and conference which I attended recently.
This quote resonated highly with me especially considering the theme of the conference ‘Attitudes and Access’ a subject very close to my heart. It resonated with me in particular when I observed my surroundings that weekend, and as I watched the many people milling around who were working so hard to make the weekend the wonderful success that it was. I was struck by the dedication and hard work of everyone involved. I have been involved with Irish Wheelchair Association for 33 years of the 55 years that the Association has been in existence and for me this conference was one of the best and most informative that I have attended.

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Our facilitator for the conference was former RTE newscaster and well known author and psychoanalyst Michael Murphy, who as our CEO Kathleen Mc Loughlin commented has a ‘voice like chocolate’, with his wonderful guidance and that of our Chairman of the Board Lt. Gerry McMahon the conference flowed freely like a river with the occasional bout of turbulence due to the ‘wonderful’ world of technology. The topics we covered were wide and very varied ranging from holiday breaks to disability hate crime. (Accessible transport, assisted living services, etc.)
Along with Michael Murphy, we had two wonderful guest speakers Stephen Cluskey who I mentioned earlier, a disability campaigner and the founder of the website http://www.wheelchairtaxi.ie. Stephen designed the website based on his own experiences of transport issues and the problem of the lack of accessible public transport nationwide. He recently won the award for “emerging social entrepreneur” at the prestigious David Manley Entrepreneur Awards.

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The second speaker at the conference was our keynote speaker Judge Gerard O’ Brien. Judge O’ Brien is a thalidomide survivor whose story I really related to especially in relation to his upbringing and the reaction of doctors to his parents when he was born. When he was growing up he was treated no differently to his siblings and he went to local mainstream schools with the rest of his peers. His upbringing taught him that no matter what challenges you face you can overcome them with hard work and unwavering support from family and friends. He originally trained as a teacher and then went on to follow a very successful career in the legal profession culminating in his recent appointment by President Michael D. Higgins as Circuit Court judge.

His inspirational story and that of Stephen Cluskey is proof that we can all strive to be the best we can be, we all have potential that can be unlocked and no matter what our challenges are we can all achieve the goals in life that we set for ourselves. We cannot change the wind, we cannot change what we are born with or whatever disability we have or acquire but we can adjust the sails, we can find ways of getting around whatever challenges this sometimes mixed up difficult world throws at us we must embrace every opportunity that comes our way. It is by doing this that we can all fulfil our potential, we cannot however do it alone we need a full crew to navigate this ocean that I call life, but with the help of our crew; family, friends and the people who work not just on days like our conference but every day to help us along the way we can all have a relatively smooth sailing on this ocean of life.

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