by Jenny Kerr
On the 16th May 2015, I attended Irish Wheelchair Association’s AGM and Conference, which this year was held in the Crown Plaza Hotel in Santry, Dublin. As this was my first time to attend the event, I didn’t really know what to expect. However, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed at the level of enthusiasm shown by both, members of IWA and guests who had attended.
The theme of the Conference was Access and Attitudes. The AGM was chaired by Gerry Mc Mahon, Chairman of the IWA Board of Directors. In the afternoon, the conference was officially opened and facilitated by former RTE Newscaster and Irelands best known psychoanalyst, Michael Murphy. Michael was joined on the panel by Stephen Cluskey, campaigner and founder of Wheelchairtaxi.ie and GoAccessible365.com, and recently appointed Circuit Court Judge Gerard O’Brien – who was the keynote speaker on the day
I was part of the Mediability Ireland team covering the event and I conducted interviews with IWA members from around the country. The people I spoke to had been members of the IWA for many years and they were based in centres around the country e.g. Dublin, Louth and Carlow. As I interviewed each of them, I discovered that for most of them, this event was a way for them to interact with other people in similar situations and to find ways of overcoming the different issues they face on a daily basis in their homes and communities. One member told me, “I came today for the first time because I was invited”.
Other members said that although the IWA have helped to improve the issues surrounding people with disabilities, they still felt that, in some communities throughout the country, more improvements needed to be made in the areas of Access and Attitudes. In the words of one member, James Haberlin from Carlow, “It’s the small things that make the big difference.”
All in all, I thought the Conference went very smoothly. Many of the members had the opportunity to have their voices heard. And I was one of them! One of the motions up for discussion asked how the IWA could do more to combat disability hate crimes in Ireland. I spoke about my experiences of being the only physically disabled student in my school. I suggested that one way the IWA might help to combat disability hate crime would be to help to integrate more students with disabilities into mainstream education. I acknowledged the fact that this approach may not be possible in some cases but I couldn’t help but feel that it was an issue that needed to be raised in helping to tackle disability hate crimes in Ireland for future generations.
For those of you who are unaware, Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) is an organisation that was set up in the 1960’s to help people with disabilities become more independent within their own communities. They are an organisation driven by the needs of their members and advocate for their rights of those members, in front of the necessary government bodies. The services they provide include Independent Living apartments, Driving Tuition, PA Support services and Resource Centres along with other vital services needed to help people with disabilities in the their lives, throughout the country. For more information please check out www.iwa.ie or contact the head office on 01-818 6400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.