Seanad debates

Thursday, 22 September 2022

New Innovations for People with Disabilities (Digital Assistive Technology): Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach. She and I acknowledge the amazing work done in the past year through the €2 million granted in the last budget. I hope she has a foot against the door on this occasion and that she will get another €2 million, or maybe more, because the money is extremely well spent.

The Minister of State mentioned that many people wear glasses. I believe I will be going down that road as well. I spent three quarters of an hour this morning in south Dublin getting my eyes tested.

The Minister of State said the World Health Assembly's Resolution EB148.R6 of 2021 urges member states to realise the highest attainable standards of health for persons with disabilities, a key part of which will concern the development and provision of assistive technologies. If I had been asked in this House five years ago what assistive technology was, I would not have had a bull's notion. The Minister of State mentioned that she recently visited the constituency of Cork South-West, where I live, and the premises of the Irish Wheelchair Association in Clonakilty. I would like to enlighten her about the fact that, in Bantry, where I lived for many years, CoAction West Cork was set up in the early 1980s. Having had ten clients originally and now more than 100, it has done great work. There is funding for road bowling and days out in the town and surrounding locations. It does not operate in Bantry alone but also in the peninsulas, including in Castletownbere, Goleen and Kilcrohane. There is a wide variety of tremendous work done. For people in Castletownbere or Goleen, which is roughly 100 miles from Cork city, the notion of getting to Cork to a central service was not applicable at the time in question.

Digital and assistive technology can do tremendous work for the affected people. CoAction has been immersed in the community for as long as I can remember. When it was established, it opened a little workshop close to the house in which I lived at the time. It has developed since. It has several houses, and people can live independently in them. Some have physical disabilities and others have all sorts of other disabilities. The community support offered by the organisation not only in Bantry but also in Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Dunmanway and the huge region in which they are located, even going into Cork North-West and Kerry South, is tremendous. It is appropriate that it be mentioned here today. If it has not already contacted the Minister of State, I encourage it to do so. Some extra funding would mean a lot to it. A friend of mine, a councillor who is a wheelchair operator, has worked very closely with the group.

The Minister of State mentioned the Central Remedial Clinic, which does extraordinary work. Ireland's first sit-to-stand wheelchair service allows wheelchair users to stand without the need of assistance. That is an amazing breakthrough because most people would not even have thought of that historically. The Minister of State said, "For people with spinal cord injury and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, this may have a range of physical and psychological benefits." For some with physical disabilities, which they may have either from birth or because of an accident, the emotional and psychological advantage of the modern technology is a huge boost. When I was growing up, people with a disability, even those with Down's syndrome, were hidden away from society. This was a shame. I had an aunt with Down's syndrome when I was a child. The notion of even taking her out to mass was frowned upon. It was asked why you would take her out. This thinking has turned totally on its head, and we are going in the right direction.

It is interesting that the World Health Organization is totally involved with this. It may be a new awakening not alone internationally, through the WHO, but also nationally. As someone who is fairly well travelled and who lived in England for some years, I believe we are a leading light in this regard. We are stepping forward and are among the best in Europe. I have no doubt that the money that has been provided is just a first. The money is extremely well spent, and I accept the Minister of State's pronouncement in that regard. However, if she got €4 million this year, which might be a bit of an ask, that money could also be spent throughout the country. It is a new beginning. I welcome it.

I laud the Minister of State for her tremendous work in this field. Some do not acknowledge what Ministers do. This is a case in which the public can learn from what we do in public life. Sometimes we get criticism, some of which is deserved, but sometimes Ministers, be they Senators or Deputies, deserve a pat on the back for what they do. Sometimes the public disregards the good things we do and hone in on the negative stuff, which we hear about on social media, etc. We are moving in the right direction. I have no doubt that the Minister of State is pushing an open door as far as the Members of this House are concerned.


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