Thursday 19 April 2018

Irish man (23) whose parents were told he’d never hold a pen opens up about his career as a teacher

James' parents were told he'd never write but he is set to begin his first teaching job in August
James' parents were told he'd never write but he is set to begin his first teaching job in August
Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

A young man who was born with a physical disability and told he’d never hold a pen has opened up about why he chose to pursue a career in teaching.

James Cawley (23), who was born with Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita (AMC), is preparing to begin a new job in Maynooth Community College in August and spoke about his pursuit of a career in education on The Ryan Tubridy Show.

AMC is a disorder which affects the body’s joints and causes them to fuse together. In James’ case, the condition means that his use of his upper and lower limbs is limited and he is a wheelchair user. He also lives with scoliosis and osteoporosis.

Speaking to RTE Radio One, James said his wish to become a teacher was borne from a desire to “give back”.

“I have been helped all my life and I really wanted to give something back and I think teaching is a great profession to do that. You’re faced with loads of things in the classroom and you watch them develop all the time and it’s a great process, one I love to be involved in.

“I graduate in September and I’ve actually accepted my first job in Maynooth Community College so I’m looking forward to that,” he said.

James spoke to Ryan Tubridy on RTE Radio One.
James spoke to Ryan Tubridy on RTE Radio One.

The young teacher, from Longford, revealed that there were moments throughout his childhood where he did get down about his condition but said he relies on humour as a coping mechanism.

 “As my mother says, if you don’t laugh you’d cry. Obviously when I was younger I would think ‘Why me’ but you come up with these coping mechanisms. My coping mechanism is humour and everyone who knows me knows I like to laugh. It’s my medicine. If you don’t laugh you’d cry,” he said.

James will graduate from Maynooth University in September and said it was important for him to “live the student life” independently.

"When I got offered a place in Maynooth people were asking me was I going to commute and I said absolutely not. I’m going to go and live the student life. I did and I took it with both hands and went out into independent living with the service of a personal assistant during the day and night and accessible accommodation on campus.

The education graduate also opened up about awkward encounters he has had to approach throughout his time in university, particularly on nights out with his friends.

“When we’re out I have a lot of able bodied friends and I’d be the only person in a wheelchair and often people would come over when they’re intoxicated and they’ll say ‘You’re a great fella for coming out’, or I get a pat on the head quite a lot.

“I often get drinks bought for me, and told how I have great courage for going out.

“It’s water off a duck’s back now but I always take that opportunity to educate people. It’s a bit patronising,” he said.

As he prepares to graduate next month, James said his success would not have been possible without his Special Needs Assistant Briege McGee, who worked with him throughout primary and secondary school.

“I first met Briege when I was 5.

“We were together for thirteen years and she saw me through primary and secondary school. I often tell people that we got divorced after 13 years,” James joked.

“The impact of Briege and having an SNA that works is important because that relationship has to gel so well.

“We’d often think about the times when I couldn’t squeeze the paint out of the paint bottles when it came time to art, and she’d put them into the soap bottles so I could do it myself. That was definitely invaluable to learn how to adapt things myself,” said James, who is the secretary of Arthrogyposis Association of Ireland.

The teacher admitted that it is so important for people with disabilities in Ireland to have the chance to be an “advocate for themselves”.

“It’s important for people with disabilities in Ireland to be an advocate for themselves. There’s every day challenges and you have to be so strategic and organised and political and it’s difficult.

“ I can understand why some people with disabilities mightn’t go through the education system or have the chance or the opportunity,” he said.

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