PWDI WATERFORD NETWORK: Grand Opening and website launch

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Well, if you live in Dungarvan, West Waterford, you can call in to a new information and resource centre set up by the Waterford Network of PWDI. Here you can speak to friendly staff in a friendly setting, help yourself to the many information leaflets in stock or even have PWDI act as an advocate for you!

PWDI is an organisation committed to promoting the rights of individuals with a disability. This commitment can be seen in their involvement at many different levels, from vetting planning applications to ensure all public places are disability friendly, to being involved in policy and decision making on disability issues such as employment and education, at local and national levels.

Laura O’Connor, Coordinator, and Tom Power, Chairman of Waterford Disability Network, have put in a great deal of hard work to make the Dungarvan office a success. Although it is not the first in the country—there are also offices in Galway, Sligo and Cork—it is one of the first to ‘to get down to business’ and make a difference for its locality. The location of the office in Dungarvan, rather than in Waterford City, is no accident. Major funding by Waterford Leader Partnership, and support from Dungarvan Town Council and Waterford County Council have provided this resource for Waterford County and City.

Although the Waterford Disability Network office has actually been open for several months, it’s official opening ceremonies took place on 17 June 2002, when invited guests and local dignitaries were able to tour the disability-friendly premises, nibble the various snacks provided and sample the wine (non-alcoholic of course!).

The ceremony then got underway with an opening speech from Tom Power, who has been the driving force behind the establishment of PWDI in Dungarvan. Tom welcomed everyone and gave background information on the organisation. He then called on Teresa Wright, Mayor of Dungarvan, to say a few words. Teresa congratulated all the staff for their hard work and commitment and praised Tom Power for being at the forefront of disability issues. PWDI and the Town Council work closely together over issues of access, and although a great deal of work has been done there is still a tremendous amount left to do. That view was reiterated by recently elected TD, Ollie Wilkinson, who quoted party’s election slogan ‘a lot done – much more to do.’ He also congratulated the staff on the fine work they had done.

Michael Ringrose, Chief Executive Officer of PWDI, also expressed a great sense of pride at the opening of the Dungarvan branch. PWDI is an organisation that represents the views of people with all forms of disability. Michael stated: ‘We are not asking for special treatment, just the same rights and opportunities as others in areas such as employment, the physical environment and education’. This sentiment was echoed by Alfred Marks (yes really) one of the many clients, who was present at the opening. Alfred argues that people with a disability should have the same rights as everyone else. He tells me that PWDI has made a big difference in this life. Nigel Blander, Chairman of PWDI, backs up Alfred’s claim by arguing that a real difference has been made in areas where PWDI offices are located. Nigel sees the offices as being able to offer the personal touch and a place where people can always rely on a free exchange of information.

I also spoke to a number of committee members who are equally convinced of the value of such a service and saw the primary goal of PWDI as raising awareness, lobbying and providing information about services. They also highlighted the difficulties surrounding people with ‘hidden disabilities’ and their need for greater support.

Before the cutting of the ribbon Tom Power thanked Laura O’Connor, Co-ordinator for all her hard work she had put into the project and her work on the website. (Laura has done a great job as you will see if you access the site.) He then called on Teresa Wright to cut the ribbon draped across the front door of the premises, which was accompanied by a great round of applause.

In addition to local dignitaries, representatives from many organisations—Waterford Leader Partnership, the South Eastern Health Board, I Autism, Irish Wheelchair Association and the Down Syndrome Association—also attended the opening. I spoke with Margaret Browne, Co-ordinator of Disability Services for the South Eastern Health Board, who said it was particularly good to see the location of this service in West Waterford. Margaret is keen for all organisations to work together in the spirit of partnership and is happy to link in with the PWDI on disability issues.

The opening of the PWDI office also coincided with the launch of a comprehensive website (www.waterforddisability.com). Designed and set up by Laura O’Connor, this easy-to-navigate website provides a wealth of national and local information, with links too many to mention. The Internet is now a primary source of information and point of contact for many individuals and organisations. The website will make the acquisition of information much easier for those with mobility and access problems. All major disability organisations, their locations and contact numbers are listed, as are all local support groups and educational and community bodies. You can also read up on the aims, objectives and background information of PWDI. Why not try it out. It may tell you something you don’t know.

Recently elected Mayor of Waterford, Hilary Quinlan, stated that the Dungarvan office would certainly be a great resource for the 9000 people with a disability in County Waterford, and the new website would provide more accessibility. Hilary visualises the centre as a place where individuals with a disability can share their experiences and ideas and perhaps overcome that sense of isolation that so often experienced by people with a disability. A quote from Nigel Blander, Chairman of PWDI, sums this up by saying: ‘PWDI—the missing link of services’.

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