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01 Dec 2021

Laois drives new national group for people with disabilities

Laois rooted Physical Impairment Ireland aims to make an impact on national stage for people with disabilities

Physical Impairment Ireland 'dissapointed' with disabled parking in Portlaoise

Physical Impairment Ireland Members of Minister of State for Disabilities, Anne Rabbitte in Portlaoise

Physical Impairment Ireland (PII) is a new disabled persons organisation that is both for and run by people with disabilities and which has strong Laois roots. 

The board was established in March of this year and already have members all over the country. It is already getting its message directly to those who have the power to make changes that will benefit people with disabilities.

The group met with the Minister of State for Disabilities Anne Rabbitte at the Killeshin Hotel in July where they expressed their frustrations and ideas for improving the experiences of disabled people in Ireland.

They discussed everything from educational supports for children to employment supports for adults.

"We had a great meeting with the minister in the Killeshin Hotel, she was very receptive to the ideas we put forward", said group member and Communications Officer Karen Chadwick.

"Our ideas range from disability awareness training for schools and public servants, to ensuring standardised disability parking bays." she said.

"There are a number of disabled parking spaces in Portlaoise that are not safe. They do not have the correct amount of space for someone in a wheelchair, or they cause people to get out of their cars in the middle of the road. They are not up to standard," said Ms Chadwick. 

The group are currently working with Laois County Council to solve this matter, in addition to the implementation of penalties for those who park illegally in these bays. 

PII touched this matter on their Facebook page this week, as shown below.

The group are advocates for the restructuring of many Laois tourist traps that are inaccessible to those with mobility issues.

Members of Physical Impairment Ireland meeting with Anne Rabbitte TD. From right to left in the photo: Aimèe Chadwick (Youth Coordinator), Leo Kavanagh (Secretary), Peter Gohery (Chairperson) , Minister of State for Disabilities, Anne Rabbitte, Martyn Moran, Clare Delaney (Assistant Secretary) Mick Ellis and Karen Chadwick (Communications Officer).

"We are looking forward to working with different government offices and Coillte in bringing local tourist destinations up to scratch when it comes to disability access.

"For example, one of our most beautiful spots in Laois is Emo Court, which I frequent myself. Unfortunately, the outdoor paths and house itself are not wheelchair accessible. Many of our wooded areas have barriers you need to walk around to access, as the barriers can't be lifted. For people with mobility aides, it's not just difficult, it's dangerous.

"It's such a pity and we intend to work closely with parties to amend this," Karen explained. 

As July is Disability Pride Month, PII will be hosting a parade in Portlaoise on the 31st.

The idea was devised by the group's youth co-ordinator Aimee Chadwick. It will be the first parade of its kind in Ireland. Disability Pride has been celebrated internationally for the last 30 years, so the group took it upon ourselves to start the tradition here.

"In a way we will be making history, Portlaoise will be the first place in Ireland to hold a Disability Pride event," said Karen.

"We want people to be proud of who they are, to not be ashamed of their disability. The parade is also for friends and loved ones of those with disabilities, everyone is welcome."

The parade is planned to consist of a short 1km route around Portlaoise. The group have said they hope to have the funding next year to run a variety of events throughout the whole month of July. 

"Disability Pride Month is not just for people with visible disabilities. It is also for people with invisible disabilities who feel that they aren't disabled enough to be a part of the community, or who get abused for using supports like parking bays or seats because they 'don't look disabled'. We want to bring everyone together to celebrate our diversity." said Karen.

With over 13% of the Irish population have a disability, Physical Impairment Ireland intends to advise and support members of the disabled community. 

"We are a disabled persons organisation who have disabilities ourselves, which makes us different. We have the experiences, empathy and knowledge which helps us support others in similar situations. 

"Our committee is very diverse, we have people born with congenital disabilities, people who lost limbs in accidents, people who are paralysed and people who have invisible disabilities," they explained.

Physical Impairment Ireland will hold their official launch on Friday, September 3 in the Killeshin Hotel from 2pm onwards. 

"The launch will also be an information event. We will have information stands from different organisations, such as the National Learning Network and the Citizens Advice Centre. We will also have stands from businesses that provide mobility aids or adaptive clothing, or enterprises run by people with disabilities," the sayd.

The event is planned to provide lively entertainment, along with talks and Q&As with Minister Anne Rabbitte and an array of prominent guest speakers who have yet to be named.

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