Irish Wheelchair Association's support is invaluable to our nine-year-old son

As the Irish Wheelchair Association prepare to host their Angels Campaign this week, ALLIE MURRAY finds out about their work and talks to a Cork family benefiting from the service.
Irish Wheelchair Association's support is invaluable to our nine-year-old son
Liam Kearney (right), aged nine from Cobh, with his twin brother Mikey.

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.”

Liam Kearney, aged nine from Cobh, with his IWA personal assistant Ger Hurley.
Liam Kearney, aged nine from Cobh, with his IWA personal assistant Ger Hurley.

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.

“Not least the ratification of the UN Convention for the Rights of People with Disabilities. 2017 marks ten years since Ireland signed the treaty and several governments have failed to push through legislation to ensure its ratification, which would in turn afford people with disabilities full and effective participation and inclusion in society,” she said.

The IWA relies heavily on fundraising to ensure that the services it provides to people with disabilities throughout the country can be improved upon and maintained. The Angels Campaign is just one of their many fundraising efforts and it is extremely important.

Anita says that their target this year is €1 million and this will supplement other vital sources of revenue including their charity shops, private donations, church gate collections and an IWA monthly draw.

Money garnered by IWA goes to support a host of essential services, primarily for people with physical disabilities but also for older people who require additional support in their own homes.

“For example, through IWA at Home, trained staff support older people who have personal care needs.” says Anita. “And our Assisted Living Service allows individuals with physical and sensory disabilities to remain in their homes with the support of a personal assistant (PA). The assistance provided is tailored specifically to each individual’s needs or requirements, and the service user has huge input into and control over how that assistance is tailored.”

Other facilities afforded to members include the provision of occupational therapy, transport, wheelchair sales and repairs, and IWA also have a driving school which provides tuition, assessment, information and advice.

The Resource and Outreach Service, which is accessed by over 2,000 people each week, offers a wide range of recreational and educational programmes locally. These include arts and crafts, music and drama, cookery, gardening and sports as well as computer skills and other QQI Certificate courses.

Facilitating participation in sports is a vital component of this service too, and members are encouraged to get involved either as a means of recreation or to compete at an elite level. There are a variety of sporting options including archery, bowls, table tennis and swimming. Locally, there is the Munster Crusaders Rugby Club, Rebel Wheelers Multi Sport Junior Club and their Senior Wheelchair Basketball Club.

Liam Kearney, aged nine from Cobh, with his brother Mikey and parents Nigel and Aoife.
Liam Kearney, aged nine from Cobh, with his brother Mikey and parents Nigel and Aoife.

Anita also draws attention to the Youth Service branch of IWA.

“This is specifically directed at members aged 13 to 30 and it aims to encourage and enable young people to become involved in their own personal development and in their own communities, seeking to ensure full inclusion for these members in all aspects of society be it at work, education or recreation,” she said.

Like many such organisations, the wonderful work which the members, volunteers and staff of IWA do often goes unrecognised, primarily because the general public are quite simply not aware of the strength and depth of their efforts and achievements. For this reason, it is important to form links between the organisation and the public in order to raise awareness of all facets of IWA’s activities, not only in terms of funding, but also to facilitate IWA in reaching their primary goal, i.e. full inclusion and integration of people with disabilities as equal and independent members of society.

“One such initiative is the All Ireland TY Wheelchair Basketball Championships,” explains Anita. “This allows able-bodied transition year students across Ireland to engage in a disability awareness programme whilst also experiencing at first hand participating in a Paralympic sport.”

Schools interested in getting involved can register at www.iwa.ie/basketball.

If you would like to support IWA, simply text ANGELS to 50300, texts cost €2 and the Association will receive €1.63 of this. Anyone wishing to help out more actively can do so by hosting an Angel’s coffee morning or organising an Angel’s event.

The IWA Angel Collection days run tomorrow and Friday, November 9 and 10. Anita explains: “Funds generated from the Angels Campaign provide over two million hours of essential supports to IWA services users each year.”

For more information, see www.iwa.ie or contact your local branch on 021 4350282.

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