AMY Purcell loves going out to eat these days because she can read menus for the first time, giving her a whole new sense of independence.
Amy (28) from Celbridge, Co Kildare, is among scores of people with Down Syndrome who are learning to read and write in adulthood. She was among a gathering in the Mansion House in Dublin yesterday to celebrate World Down Syndrome Day and speak about the LATCH-ON literacy programme.
Amy said: "I couldn't read at all before the LATCH-ON programme, now I can and I am really glad I can.
"I used to find it really embarrassing that I couldn't read the menus in restaurants. I used to have to get my mum and my sisters to read them for me. It doesn't feel like I have Down Syndrome at all now. I'm just like my sisters."
Texting is another new found skill Amy has learned, said her mum Josie.
Mary Walsh, from Naas, whose daughter Sheena is also doing the course, funded by Down Syndrome Ireland said she lost her reading and writing skills after leaving school. "She worked in Superquinn for 12 years but that closed. But this is another opportunity. Now she can ring her friends and can book a film," she said.
Pat Clarke, chief executive of Down Syndrome Ireland, whose son David is enrolled in the programme, said it costs €1m to fund it.
"People with Down Syndrome are still perceived as the eternal children. We want to change perceptions of them through education. If we attain this goal it will enable employers to view people with Down Syndrome as potential employees.
"We have seen great achievements from this world class programme of education and sincerely hope it will enhance many people's learning skills.
"This programme is not arriving at a standard. It is about getting you from where you are to where you can possibly go with it."