Liz Lernihan, Kerry Parents and Friends, on setting an advocacy group in Kerry and their ups and downs over the last three years

Members of the Advocacy Group, who continue to speak out for themselves and others in Kerry Parents and Friends Association: Michelle O Leary; Josephine Ryan; Jimmy O Shea; Patrick Gallivan; Kathleen Healy and Denise Ridout (not in picture).
Members of the Advocacy Group, who continue to speak out for themselves and others in Kerry Parents and Friends Association: Michelle O Leary; Josephine Ryan; Jimmy O Shea; Patrick Gallivan; Kathleen Healy and Denise Ridout (not in picture).

In 2009 we set up an advocacy group in The Old Monastery Day Service, Killarney. We spent some time working on personal and interpersonal development which helped our self-awareness and also improved our abilities to be part of a group. Using role play, we developed good communication skills. Our aims were to:
• Develop our ability and confidence to speak up
• Drive change through our individual and group voice
• Be involved in policy development and service planning.

We teased out our expectations of each other as members of the advocacy group and all agreed to honour these. Breeda Daly has supported our group from the very start, helping us to research information and access any resources.

In Dec 2009 we were appalled along with everyone else when the Christmas disability bonus was cut in the budget. We decided that we would like to have our voice heard and we wrote to the then Minister for Social Protection Mary Hanafin to express our dissatisfaction with this decision. We received a standard reply to this.

In 2010 we wrote to the Department of Social Protection to express how disappointed we were when the disability allowance was cut- We stressed that we had always been encouraged to face the consequences of our decisions in our life. We expressed our disbelief at having our allowance cut to pay for bad decisions we neither made nor benefitted from. We got no reply to that letter.

Our member Josephine had started going weekly to the swimming pool in the Killarney public leisure centre. There was a hoist there that makes entry into the pool a comfortable and dignified process for people with mobility problems.

Josephine loved the freedom she had in the water, which was very different to how she felt in her wheelchair- She found doing her physiotherapy exercises in the pool helped build her strength. She got to know many of the staff working there and enjoyed her weekly chats with them. When Josephine heard that there were plans to close the pool it was a huge worry to her. Swimming had become a very important activity in her life. Working with her keyworker, Josephine failed to find another swimming pool in Killarney with facilities that suited her. She wanted the people who would decide the future of the pool to hear her voice. She met with

Patrick O’Donoghue, a town councillor, and explained her situation to him. Josephine asked him to let the other people involved in the decision know how important the swimming pool was to her and other people in a similar situation. The pool remains open today, now named the Coral Leisure Centre, and Josephine has started working in reception one morning a week.

In 2011 we were involved in a project to update the shower area and design new wheelchair accessible toilets in the Old Monastery. Michelle, Kathleen and Josephine met with the people using this space the most in the Old Monastery, to hear their opinions and suggestions. We made a list of the changes and things we would like to have included in the plans. We identified specific difficulties experienced by people using wheelchairs in the Old Monastery building. We presented our findings to the then Chief Executive Tony Darmody, and reported to our group after we met Tony. We explained that while most of our ideas would be included, some of them could not be, due to resources. We now have a bathing/ shower and toilet area that is easily accessible to everyone supported by the service. We took great pleasure in emailing Tony Darmody to express our satisfaction with the changes.

Our dental service had changed. We used to have a review every 1-2 years that spotted issues before they became a problem, but the service had deteriorated to management of acute pain. People were advised to visit local dentists, which creating difficulties with access and records. We wrote to the head of dental services in Kerry and within two weeks a date was organised for a review. We now enjoy an improved service.

We have been involved in programme development in the Old Monastery. We discussed new programs and activities we wanted to try, and involved ourselves in organising them. After three months we were involved in discussing how the new plans had worked out. This was a great opportunity to try new things and look back at things we did.


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