Sunday 21 January 2018

'The Irish Government and public need to see people with disabilities have potential': Joanne O'Riordan

Disability campaigner Joanne O'Riordan says she is a positive and optimistic person.
Disability campaigner Joanne O'Riordan says she is a positive and optimistic person.

Kathy Armstrong

Inspirational campaigner Joanne O'Riordan has ruled out a career in politics but said she is determined to help make Ireland more accessible for people with disabilities.

Joanne also called on the Government to ratify The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities saying that we need to recognise that people with disabilities "have potential and a future."

The Cork native is just one of seven people in the world with Tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare condition that means she was born without arms or legs, she has been behind the high-profile No Limbs, No Limits campaign and is calling for our government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

She told "I hope it's the beginning of something special and the start of Irish people and the Government recognising that people with disabilities do have potential and they do have a future and they should be included in everyday life.

"It's just a start but it implements legislation that impacts people with disabilities, maybe building legislation, for equal access to education and things like that.
"I know that places you wouldn't expect like North Korea have ratified it and of course I understand that maybe some places have ratified it without actually enforcing it but I think it's important the Irish Government realises we're so far behind.
"It's us and the US that are the last two left who have signed up but not ratified it."

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Joanne O’Riordan with other protesters outside Leinster House Photo: Tom Burke
Joanne O’Riordan with other protesters outside Leinster House Photo: Tom Burke

Joanne is currently doing her Erasmus year in York and said she has found it easier to be a student in the UK.

She said: "It's going really well it's an incredible experience and I'm loving it.
"There are things that are different, obviously Theresa May's government has cut some things and there's a lot of complaints but just from my perspective in the university it's a lot easier, there's a lot more efforts to help integrate you and ensure everything is there that you need, they just make it so much easier for you to get an education.

"Obviously though they've a long way to go in some areas, no country is perfect in terms of policy.

"What I would like to do in the future is to compare all the country's policies and make a super policy, put them together and hope Ireland will implement that.

"Obviously I'm Irish, I love Ireland and I just want to make it the most accessible country in the world."

Joanne O'Riordan speaking to the UN in 2012
Joanne O'Riordan speaking to the UN in 2012

Despite her ambitions to make a difference, she said that a career in politics wouldn't be for her.

She said: "Oh God no, I see the constraints they're tied down to every day and I don't like it at all, I don't really like the political system, I think you actually have a lot more power as a lobbyist."

Joanne was speaking as she marked her milestone 21st birthday this week, although she is known for her positive attitude she admits having a disability can get to her.

She said: "Sometimes I suppose it does make you angry, able-bodied people can just get on with their lives and do what they want within reason.

"They can just get up and go when they want whereas I need to plan 48 hours in advance, I can never be spontaneous, it's annoying.

"On the flip side, I get to do such cool things through my campaigning, I get to travel the world and give speeches and meet so many people I wouldn't otherwise.

"I'm very positive 99 per cent of the time though, I think that's the way I'm manufactured, there's so much bad stuff happening in the world that I think it's important we can see the lighter side too."

As she reflects on her campaign, Joanne also shared some advice for her younger self.

She said: "I would tell my 13-year-old self to just be myself and hang on in there, the small things seemed to matter a lot but you need to remember most of the time it'll be fine.

"You just have to get up, get on with it and stop moaning."

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