Wednesday 21 February 2018

'See the person first – not the disability'

A fall from a horse at the age of 17 left Cork woman Jean Daly in a wheelchair. She tells Áilín Quinlan why people with disabilities should get involved in the community and why mobility services are so important

A FALL from a horse in her teens put promising rider Jean Daly in a wheelchair – but it didn't stop her from becoming a finalist in the prestigious Rose of Tralee contest, pursuing a satisfying career and playing sports.

A native of Carrigaline, Co Cork, Jean (27) now lives in Co Antrim, where she works as a researcher in the area of assistive technology.

She is also one of the ambassadors for Ireland's first Care and Mobility Show. The event, which takes place in the RDS on June 13 and 14 as part of this year's National Carers' Week, will see more than 100 exhibitors from Ireland and the UK showcasing products and services for the 600,000 disabled people in Ireland – over 240,000 of whom require mobility assistance – and their carers.

"I know how important mobility aids, equipment and services are to help you maximise your ability to live the life you want to lead," says Jean, who has been a wheelchair user since injuring her spine 10 years ago.

"I fell off a horse," she says simply.

Jean's ambition – she had been horse-riding since the age of 10 and lived and breathed horses – was to join the Irish Eventing Team, but when she was 17, her dream exploded. It happened on May 2, 2004, in Downpatrick.

"I'd competed across Ireland and the UK and I was hoping to join the team but the horse stumbled on a jump and I fell off over her shoulder. I broke my back and severed my spinal cord.

"I was brought to the Royal Hospital in Belfast where they told me that I wouldn't walk again."

After two-and-a-half weeks, she was transferred to the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghaire, where she stayed for two-and-a-half months, before returning to school to do her Leaving Certificate.

Afterwards she studied psychology at UCD, worked for the Irish Wheelchair Association while studying for a master's degree and moved to Co Antrim five years ago.

In her spare time, she plays wheelchair basketball and tennis, and just last year became the Antrim Rose of Tralee – the first wheelchair user ever selected to represent the county.

"I entered the competition for two reasons. First, I wanted to change how people see people with disability. I wanted them to see the person first. I also wanted to encourage people with disability to get involved in their communities," she explains.

For Jean, the upcoming Care and Mobility show at the RDS is important primarily because of the emphasis it places on creating an expectation for everyone to be fully included in their communities.

"In my profession as a researcher, I know there are more advances being made, and lots of choice out there.

"It's very important that all of this equipment is brought together in one location so that people can look at it and make informed decisions as to what they could benefit from."

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