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One a day Live
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Jean Claude Van Damme lends support to Meath music festival for people with disabilities

By Louise Walsh

Hollywood martial arts legend Jean Claude Van Damme has thrown his support behind Ireland's first-ever music festival for people with disabilities, which will take place in Co. Meath next month.

The Time Cop star has sent a video to organisers of Ablefest to wish all the participating children the best.

Organisers are expecting over 2,000 children and adults for the inaugural Ablefest and are hoping to expand on it in the coming years.

What will make Ablefest so different from other festivals is that it will include portaloos for the disabled, seating adaptations and even a sensory room if the music and lights get too much for those with autism.

All acts have given their services for free and organisers say they have secured Dublin DJ Andrew Walker, who has Down Syndrome, who will play at the event.

Belgian superstar Jean Claude Van Damme sent the video after hearing about the festival from Trim martial arts actor Jimmy Bennett who is now making a name for himself on the Hollywood circuit.

He sent the clip to one of the organisers Shay Casserly who worked with Jimmy on Ireland's only martial arts movie Fatal Deviation two decades ago.

Most of the organisers of Ablefest are parents who have children with disabilities, and who jumped at the chance to help with the festival at the Causey Farm, outside Kells on July 22.

Kevin Farrell from Trim and Shay Casserly from Navan decided to stage the event here after seeing something similar in the UK

Members of Prosper Meath who will be participating at the event.

Both were delighted that the event has been endorsed by Van Damme.

"It's mad,"said Kevin.

"Shay and Jimmy organised it and it will hopefully now help to highlight the event

"My wife works as a nurse with the disability services and my son Josh (6) has Albanism so we know the challenges that face people with disabilities at mainstream music festivals.

[quote]Everyone should have the right to access such an event but often muddy areas make it impossible for wheelchair users, for example to get around. Everyone should and will be mindful of each other.[/quote]

"Due to funding constraints, we are starting out with great local bands and hope to build on it year on year."

Shay Casserly from Navan says the support has been phenomenal so far from all over Ireland.

"We've had families from all over Ireland telling us they're coming and have received huge support from a number of bodies including Autism Ireland, Down Syndrome Ireland and the Disability Federation of Ireland."

Shay who has a son with Down Syndrome and Autism also runs film making workshops with people with disabilities.

Shay Casserly (organiser) with his son, Eoin.

[quote]It really is badly needed. People with disabilities love music too but are often prohibited from going to music festival because of access problems. We've decided to make that right straight away.[/quote]

"Also, it's a break for parents who spend such a lot of their time fighting for various funding and rights for their child that they don't get much time to relax and enjoy the moment."

Down Syndrome Ireland and the NCBI (National Council for the Blind Ireland) are just two of the groups so far that are throwing their support behind the event.

Welcoming the festival, Down Syndrome Ireland CEO Gary Owens said: “It is great to see a music festival which promotes inclusion for all. We want to thank the organisers of Ablefest for putting together such a fantastic event that every child and teenager can enjoy, including those with Down syndrome and other special needs.”

Meanwhile the CEO of NCBI stated: "A sensory festival is a wonderful opportunity for people with sight loss to come together in a setting which is suitable for their needs and which provides stimulation and engagement. It is an excellent initiative and one which I am sure will grow in time."

Ablefest will take place from 2-6pm on July 22 and information on tickets will be posted on their Facebook page.