NINE-year-old Liam Kearney, from Cobh, is one of the many young people who benefit from the services of Irish Wheelchair Association.
He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was two years old and has been a wheelchair user for the past four years or so.
Currently attending second class in St. Joseph’s National School in Cobh with his twin, Mikey, Liam has a full-time special needs assistant during school hours. His mother, Aoife, explains that the school has been super in accommodating Liam who, she believes, is the first wheelchair user in the school in more than 40 years.
“While we were waiting to enrol Liam, the school made several changes to the premises including the installation of a lift, ramps and wheelchair-accessible bathroom,” she said.
Outside of school hours, Liam benefits from the Assisted Living Scheme rolled out by IWA. This provides him with a personal assistant who, Aoife explains, is invaluable to the entire family.
“Ger Hurley has been with us for the past six years. She is with Liam for six hours a week (three hours a day for two days) and she helps him with his homework and physiotherapy, which involves stretching exercises and assisting him in his walking frame as well as occasional day trips and visits to the library.”
Without Ger’s help, Aoife admits that they’d be lost.
“She’s invaluable to us. Liam has a great relationship with her and he thinks the world of her. For our part, we trust her so much and that’s very important when it comes to our children.”
At present, Liam doesn’t require any additional assistance from IWA but just knowing that the support is there if they need it is an enormous relief to Aoife and her family.
“I know there are centres in Cork that provide a range of services and facilities but at the moment we are happy with the level of assistance we are getting. As Liam gets older, that may change but he will be able to make up his own mind as to what he wants when the times comes,” she added.
The past few weeks have been particularly busy for the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) as they prepare for their biggest annual fundraiser — the Angels Campaign. Staff and volunteers the length and breadth of the country have been working like Santa’s elves to make the campaign as productive as possible and over the coming weekend, in particular, you are bound to come across volunteers selling Angels Pins outside Aldi stores and other retail outlets nationwide.
Founded in November 1960 at the Mater Hospital in Dublin by a small group of wheelchair users, IWA has since grown to an incredible 20,000 members plus 4,000 staff and volunteers. They have full-time and part-time centres at over 60 locations as well as three holiday centres for service users at Dublin, Roscommon and Kilkenny.
The overriding aim of IWA is simple: that all persons with disabilities can be equal and independent members of society.
Anita Matthews, communications manager with IWA, explains that the organisation seeks to achieve this aim through instigating social, cultural and political change at both local and national level.
“We work with and on behalf of people with physical disabilities to drive positive change in Ireland by influencing public policy, providing quality services and enabling accessibility to all aspects of society.”
Anita is satisfied that their partnership with the State has served the nation well.
“IWA has been at the forefront in demonstrating what can be achieved when collaboration between partners striving to attain the same goals succeeds.”
However, there are still a lot of measures she would like to see implemented.