VOLUNTARY COMMITMENT

by Stephen Kealy

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Is it ever possible to measure the accrued value of voluntary commitment and dedication to the fabric of a nation? What is readily observable are the outcomes of such commitment in many different settings.

This issue of Frontline honours the contribution of so many people throughout the country who have made extraordinary efforts over the years to better the lives of people with an intellectual disability. People from many walks of life—parents, friends, clinicians, politicians and administrators—have all contributed to the weaving of the fabric which supports people with intellectual disabilities. The huge variety of photographs published in this issue not only celebrates the achievements of people with disabilities but also identifies some of the people who made those achievements possible.

Inclusion Ireland has endeavoured to stay true to the principles set down by the founding members (probably best expressed in Declan Costello’s ‘just society’ philosophy), which was a huge challenge, given that the inherited understanding of intellectual disabilities was then mired in a philosophy and vision that had a paucity of depth, leading decision makers to seriously underestimate the strengths, abilities and capacities of intellectually disabled people. Many civil servants and most politicians of the day were bereft of any directional understanding. The absence of a state disability compass forced parents and friends to set out on a course of seeking local and inclusive solutions to meet the needs of their sons and daughters.

Some parents, like Annie Ryan, took drastic actions outside Leinster House to wake legislators up to the needs of families. Local associations made extraordinary efforts to push the boundaries and to challenge jaded thinking on how best to meet the needs of their sons and daughters. The outcome of their work is now expressed in an unassailable recognition that the person with an intellectual disability is a person with individual rights. The implementation of HIQA standards will dramatically accelerate the greater involvement of the person in expressing their rights in making decisions and choices in their lives—‘no decision without me’.

When I was reviewing photographs for this edition, many familiar faces from the around the country sprang out, many of them whom I had met as Chairperson of Inclusion Ireland. Some of them have passed away, but their legendary contributions live on in recognisable achievements of pre-schools, schools, places to live, to work and to be oneself- One of those people was Sylvia Dawson whose obituary this issue carries.

In Ireland there is a huge understanding of the importance of reaching out to people in other countries who have undergone enormous social upheaval and devastation because of national disasters, such as earthquakes and famine. We are also living at a time where we urgently need to reconnect with the paths that so many people commemorated in this issue set out on 50 years ago. There is an inescapable conclusion that we need to reach out more to our own, in their own place, if we are ever to benefit from even the lightest breeze in our sails.

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