Technology is limb I never had Joanne O’Riordan tells UN
"IT was crazy!" That's how Cork teenager Joanne O'Riordan summed up her experience at the United Nations in New York yesterday, after she received a standing ovation for her speech about how technology has transformed her life.
Joanne, who was born without arms or legs, delivered the keynote address at the inaugural 'Girls in ICT' conference, organised by the UN's International Telecommunication Union.
"Technology is the limb I never had," she told the audience.
The transition-year student from Millstreet, Co Cork, laughed, joked and smiled her way through the event, alongside a panel of women that included a European Commissioner, a UN ambassador, politicians and IT executives from Microsoft, Cisco and Facebook.
And despite delivering a speech to more than 200 delegates, she was not in the least bit nervous.
"No, I'm not one of those nervous people . . . the only thing that would make me panicky is if One Direction walked in," she quipped.
The self-confessed "die-hard GAA fan" was accompanied by her parents Anne and Joe and her older brother Steven. A natural blonde, she has dyed her hair red for the occasion in support of the Cork team.
Describing herself as "fiercely independent", Joanne told how she never allowed her physical condition to hold her back.
"As you can see I was born without my limbs, but my motto in life is: 'No Limbs No Limits'." This inspiring mantra is also the title of a documentary about Joanne's life which is currently in production. Joanne's brother Steven is working closely with her on the project along with producer Adrian Devane.
"The disability I have is known as 'total amelia' and it is one of the rarest conditions known to us. I believe there are only seven people in the world living with this physical form," she said, before explaining how technology has enhanced her life.
"My parents have told me that when I was one, I first began to explore the use of technology with our old computer," she told the audience, gesturing with the small, left limb she uses to control her electronic wheelchair.
Of course, like all 16-year-olds, Joanne loves her gadgets. She's the proud owner of an iPad, iPod, laptop, Nintendo DS and a Sony PlayStation. She likes to tweet, text, update her Facebook page and play the most up-to-date computer games.
"Believe it or not, I simply use my upper and bottom lip, chin, nose and hand to work most if not all these systems," she explained.
"Today I can type 36 words a minute and, for someone with no limbs, I think that's an incredible achievement," she said, to cheering and applause.
Joanne ended her speech by challenging the IT world to build her a robot.
"It sounds almost insane but . . . I've always wanted and would love to have a robot. This robot would become my hands and legs," she said.
"Technology has made me even more determined to achieve a better standard and quality of life. I always think, if I can do this now, what would I achieve in the future?"