A different challenge: how people with disabilities cope with the pandemic

People living with disabilities face challenges on a daily basis and with the current global pandemic they have been tested once more as we all adapt to a new way of living. Last Thursday marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities and Ciaron Noble spoke with Enable Ireland service users about some of the new ways the service has provided support to them.

Picture from Pixabay.

Enable Ireland is considered to be an essential service, but a lot of their day centre supports and activities have had to be moved online. These support systems are vital to the service users as they create a safe and happy environment for the users to take part in fun activities such as fun games, Yoga, Zumba and Bingo along with many other exciting and fun activities, all while socialising online with their friends.  Their routine wasn’t disrupted, as the new online service got up and running, proving to be a great success. 

The virtual service has connected people from all the different Enable Ireland branches around the country from Dublin as far as Kerry and Cork. “Through the virtual service, we’re meeting people, we’ve never met before, making new friends and staying in contact with our other friends at the same time,” said Padhraic Dormer, an enthusiastic virtual participant.

For many the virtual sessions have been really positive for what has been some very difficult times for everyone. By all accounts it seems like the online service has been a great success and a new way forward for the future. Jason O’Reilly and Sean Hall both work within the organisation, helping facilitate this online service, but they both wanted to emphasise the collective effort made by their staff and service users throughout the whole process. Sharon Byrne, who attends the virtual service, was given a special mention. “She’s been leading activities, creating activities and being our IT expert and helping people with some of their technical difficulties,” they said, highlighting the supportive network that has been created for all. 

There’s often a stigma about people with disabilities about what they should and shouldn’t do, however for people with disabilities it’s more about the adaptations they need to make, to enable them in doing what they want. The Enable Ireland centres are there to provide a platform to help people do what they want, in a safe environment and to have a support system in place to help them achieve their goals, without making them feel any different. “You don’t feel like you have a disability when you’re with Enable, there’s no them and us, we’re all one,” emphasised Laura Dempsey, a service user and music lover.

Dormer, Byrne and Dempsey have not let their disability stop them from following their passions. Pre-Covid, Dormer was jumping out of planes, living for adventure with his dare-devil nature. Byrne was central to her local boxing club, setting up the ropes, setting up the pads and helping run the whole show every Tuesday and Thursday night. Dempsey has been very proactive during lockdown, writing a book and focusing on her music with plans of getting her songs on Spotify in the near future. There’s no doubt that all three are very passionate and living life to the full is their complete intention.

The trio are a confident bunch who have also become great ambassadors both for Enable Ireland and people with disabilities. This was evident throughout last week as they participated in many virtual events, promoting awareness for International Day of Persons with Disabilities, they spoke at a couple of conventions including one half way across the world in Qatar, in front of more than 150 people throughout the week. As a group this demonstrates one of their many talents as it’s a real skill to have the ability and confidence to present to that many people. “We’re used to doing it and it doesn’t faze us,” said Dormer.

Dormer is always happy, outgoing and reliable, Byrne is hard-working and Dempsey has a love and talent for music, these are all human qualities that anybody can have. People with disabilities often don’t see themselves as different to anybody else, they just see their difficulties as different to the ones able-bodied people might face. Everybody goes through struggles throughout their life whether they’re big, small, physical or mental, our struggles and strengths are all different, but when Demspey was describing the relationship between the staff and the service users, she said: “there’s no such thing as them and us, we’re just one” and that’s something we should all think in life. 

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