Frontline prides itself as an information resource for Irish families, practitioners and researchers in intellectual disability. However, because the magazine appears only every three months, it can’t claim to give cutting-edge, breaking news. The world of communication has changed drastically in the dozen years since Frontline was first published, and the Internet has fast become the vehicle for rapid-access information on disability, as it has so many other topics.
The editor has been looking for a volunteer to review disability websites for us—no offers, so far. I don’t know a ‘browser’ from a window-shopper, and my favourite ‘bookmark’ is a leatherette souvenir from a NAMHI AGM! But somebody has to start the ball rolling, so here are some of the disability sites I’ve used occasionally. As a before-the-flood librarian, I approach a website looking for information. I know next to nothing about site-design, chat rooms—and still need someone to define ‘listserv’!
So, we’ll begin—very basically—with a short summary of some Irish websites on disability. Apologies for omissions, probably lots to them, but not intentional. Many of you are far more knowledgeable about web resources than this writer. Please tell us about your choices among disability websites and we will include them in coming issues. We’ll peruse some United Kingdom sites in our next issue—and after that the world is in our net! Please email your website-comments to email@example.com.
DISABILITY SUPPORT ORGANISATIONS
We enthusiastically welcomed the website of the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies when it was launched in the spring of 1999. The site was maintained by the Federation’s Research and Development Officer Gina Magliocco, and it had/has the potential to be a general clearinghouse of information for the Irish learning disability community, with information on services, resources, research and links to international sites. The website is still used for recruitment purposes, advertising positions available from voluntary service providers around Ireland, but unfortunately the disability information resource has languished in a time-warp since June 2001, when Gina left the organisation. Please, Fed-Vol, get someone to carry on the good work again!
NAMHI’s website has been growing over the past couple of years. It is particularly useful as a source of documents—the NAMHI Newsletter is available on the site, as is the Directory of Services (1999)
The Disability Federation represents Irish voluntary, non-statutory agencies which provide support services to people with disabilities. Its broad remit is reflected by its website, which includes a list of its members, links, news items and copies of speeches, and the full text of its monthly newsletter (in pdf format). At present it also includes a full report of the ‘Get Your Act Together’ conference.
The website of Enable Ireland (formerly Cerebral Palsy Ireland) has a good information-search capability, good links, and a bibliography on topics relating to physical disability.
Parents and Professionals and Autism (PAPA) in Northern Ireland provide news and information about their branches, services and events on this website.
The NDA website still contains some of the information which was available on the former NRB site (links and copies of documents), but it has a strange, ‘one-page’ memo appearance, without any graphics (apart from the NDA logo) or even hyperlinks—‘click here’ works equally well, but somehow it looks old-fashioned, even to me. I was sorry not to find a link to the NDA Library, but perhaps that is because is currently inaccessible at all. Relocation to new premises within the NDA buildings at Clyde Road is underway, and we’re told we can anticipate its valuable services again in May.
Conscious as we are of the importance of maintaining and updating a site, and of our own lack of experience in these matters, we asked our e-architect (site-designer) for a basic website—no singing or dancing graphics, no video links, etc. The site includes the contents page of current and recent issues, two selected articles from each issue, a list of some of the major topics covered in those issues, subscription information and a discussion board. At the moment the Editorial Board has no resident webmaster; and the site is updated by remote—from New York State [Thanks again, Liam. Luv, Mom!]. Actually, that’s a really great thing about a website—it isn’t limited by geography.
GOVERNMENT AND PUBLIC SERVICES
Government department websites are an easy source of public documents and reports, press releases and speeches. Transcripts of the proceedings of the Dáil and Seanad can also make interesting reading on occasions!
Comhairle, which merged or transmogrified with/from the National Social Services Board in 2000, wears the broad mantle of public service information provider in Ireland. From the Comhairle homepages, one is directed to its (real) branch-offices and to its branch e-information sites: www.cidb.ie and www.oasis.ie.
The Citizens’ Information Database is a very extensive, and perhaps necessarily slightly cumbersome, source of documents on rights, entitlements and state services. It includes items generated by Comhairle and Irish government publications. It includes Comhairle’s own publications, the monthly Relate and the Direftory of National Voluntary Organisations. The ‘What’s New’ section alerts users to changes in services and includes relevant newspaper items in a daily ‘Mediascan’. As well as including a ‘powerful search mechanism’, the Index and Contents views on the CIDB provide quick access to the full text of many public documents, divided by category or keyword. There are several sections relating to people with disabilities.
Oasis is another powerful government website, recently announced and still being developed to bring people ‘public service information for life’. Also hosted by Comhairle, in a ‘brighter’ format than the CIDB, Oasis is organised around ‘key life events’, such as getting a job, buying a house, health, etc. A quick search under ‘learning disability’, ‘intellectual disability’, ‘mental handicap’, and ‘special needs’ produced no results. However, there was a section which explained the relevant rules and procedures of ‘helping people with disabilities to vote’.
Scoilnet is an extensive e-network for Irish schools, with sections for Infants-2nd Classes, 3rd-6th Classes, Junior Cycle, Senior Cycle, Parents and Teachers. Within the section for teachers are several further ‘pages’ on ‘special needs’, with sub-sections dealing with curriculum, technology, library, projects and organisations (good links here). The site is bright, user-friendly. It deservedly won the 2001 ‘community-special interest site’ Golden Spiders Award, presented by the Irish Internet Association.
Fergal Bowers, Ireland’s leading medical journalist edits this general health site and news service, which is updated daily. There are several thousand pages of information on over 400 topics—a small number are disability-related.
IRISH HEALTH BOARDS
The health boards in the Republic each have a website (the exception is the Western Health Board—as far as I could determine).
See: Eastern Regional Health Authority: www.erha.ie
Midlands Health Board: www.mhb.ie
Mid-Western Health Board: www.mwhb.ie
North Eastern Health Board: www.nehb.ie
North Western Health Board: www.nwhb.ie
South Eastern Health Board: www.sehb.ie
Southern Health Board: www.shb.ie
The four Health and Society Services Boards in Northern Ireland have websites which can be easily accessed through the Northern Irish Health and Personal Social Services Website
IRISH LEARNING DISABILITY SERVICES
St Michael’s House has a colourful and up-to-date site with lots of information for families and service users. Their Learning Resource Centre [‘library’, in my day!] provides an information service to the parents, families, service users and staff of SMH. The Centre website is not password-protected, so anyone can ‘search’ on it. Anyone interested in disability may make an appointment to use the library for reference purposes, and interlibrary loans may be arranged.
The Galway County Association was one of the first Irish services to develop a website. The site is entirely text-based, with a slightly ‘folksy’ type-font, but it includes a good deal of material—a diary, volunteer opportunities, a guestbook, and good links to other sites (although these are rather outdated).
The St John of God Brothers have a fully-developed website, spanning the full range of their services in Ireland. Unfortunately access to the library pages within the website are password-protected and available only to staff in the Order’s services.
Colourful and up-to-date, the Cope Foundation website includes a discription of the organisation’s services, its Annual Report, Progress (their quarterly newsletter), and their Research Directory (1970-2000). Several good advocacy websites are listed on its ‘links’ page. The site is also used as a vehicle for Cope’s fundraising activities, with an events diary, lists of draw results, etc.
Sunbeam House Services uses its site primarily as an aid to recruitment, but it also serves well as an informational site.
Frontline’s (virtual) prize for innovation in disability websites goes, resoundingly, to Claire Shanahan, whose website goclaire shows how the notion of a ‘homepage’ can be expanded to share personal experiences, keep in contact, and have fun. Good for you, Claire!