I am delighted to contribute to Frontline’s issue on celebrating Disability.
Just a few months ago we watched the London Paralympic Games and marvelled at the bravery and skill of each competitor in the games. The team from Ireland scored a number of successes and this undoubtedly lifted the mood of the whole country. The tremendous effort and dedication of all of the athletes proudly representing their nation has to be acknowledged.
We all remember the Special Olympics hosted in Ireland in 2003 as a great event. As a country, we celebrated the success of those games. The Special Olympics is not only for great occasions. It’s about people with intellectual disabilities attending sporting clubs each week, participating in training and enjoying the company of fellow athletes.
Sport is not the only area in which we should celebrate disability. Huge advances are being made in education where people with disabilities are excelling. There are a number of third-level courses for people with intellectual disabilities. One in particular that I am familiar with is the Certificate in Contemporary Living in the National Institute for Intellectual Disability in Trinity College Dublin. I recall seeing the pictures of the students celebrating outside Trinity after graduation. The inclusiveness captured by this image is a model for all education providers to follow.
In the arts, people with disabilities are making great strides. I was particularly heartened to see the great work of Orla O’Sullivan recognised recently when she won the Hidden Hearing Heroes workplace award. Orla is a deaf and blind pianist and music teacher. She uses her great musical talent to teach deaf children music. Her words on winning this award are an inspiration to all of us: ‘Disability is an obstacle, not a barrier. People with a disability should never give up doing what they want to do. They might have to work harder like me, but it is worth the effort.’