Health and Disability

Joan Ryan, parkrun, Kildare

Joan is the parkrun Ambassador for Vision Impaired and Blind runners and walkers. In this role, she helps train guides and encourages visually impaired people to participate in parkrun. She single-handedly organised guide training for other parkrunners to act as guides for those with visual impairments. She has travelled the length and breadth of the country to train guides and to introduce guides to visually impaired people. She has provided very thorough and helpful written tips and guides to all parkrun events to help improve accessibility.

In addition to all that, she has organised a ‘mock’ junior parkrun in Dublin’s St Anne’s park for the St Joseph’s Primary School for Visually Impaired and assisted at another one in Tralee. She enlisted volunteers to help make it happen and the support of the local council too.

Recently she was involved in the Vision Sports Ireland Inclusion Games, volunteering herself and also enlisting others to volunteer to help support the games. As well as promoting inclusion for visually impaired people, Joan has also been a consistent and active volunteer at various parkrun events — being instrumental in setting up Fairview in Dublin and a regular volunteer at Castletown in Celbridge.

Through her volunteering, Joan has had a significant impact on the parkrun community. She has helped bring visually impaired people to parkrun, making them feel more included and supported and making it easier for them to access these wonderful events. She has also enriched the lives of many sighted people doing parkrun — by making them more aware of people with visual impairment, and helping us build empathy and skills to include them.

John Conroy, Irish Wheelchair Association, Dublin

John has been volunteering with the Irish Wheelchair Association for 3 years and in that time his role has developed from being that of a driver to his present capacity as general maintenance for the the Lucan centre. John’s dedication to his current role as maintenance is that he opens the centre in the mornings, has the heating on, coffee made. He will also have finished cutting and weeding in the garden, all before 9.00 in the morning. John is a ‘can do’ person and sees the solution immediately, rather than the problem. John has shown his dedication to the centre at every level, even down to calling in to feed the fish over the Christmas holidays.

John has seen the need for fundraising initiatives to support services for the centre. He has sourced furniture that is being dumped and managed to update, renovate and up-cycle it. John then sells this and donated the funds for the purpose of the maintenance of the centre. The impact that John has had on the centre is at many levels:

  1. The built environment is vastly improved, with activity rooms freshly painted, with colours picked out by service users. In these cases the funding would not be available to bring in contractors.
  2. The outside space, now has an outside boccia court, thanks to John’s hard work and this summer it was used every day.
  3. John has volunteered to support service users in out of hours situations, along with core staff, to attend, only recently, a family wedding.

Mary Arrigan-Langan, Octopus Swimming Club, Galway

Mary Arrigan-Langan set up Octopus Swimming Club in 1981 for people with physical disabilities. This club is no ordinary swimming club. It operates using the ‘Halliwick’ concept, which, allows people with disabilities – be it spinal cord injury, amputee, head injury, stroke, spina-bifida, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, visual impairment, among others – to become “water free”.

She has been involved for 37 years providing weekly swim sessions hardly missing a session in all that time. The club has over forty members of all ages. Every single club member gets physical and emotional benefits from swimming and being part of a club that is Recreational and social. Many members are non verbal, however Mary through her eye contact, can connect in a very special way.

Mary is also great at pushing the boundaries and getting people to progress and be ambitious. A recent example is of one club member who had a stroke 7 years ago who recently went to Poland to represent Ireland at the Halliwick Games. This person was so delighted and Mary was so proud she went to support with the Irish flag.

Mary also volunteers in Halliwick Swim sessions with Galway Speeders (Irish Wheelchair Association) IWA Sport junior club (7years) and with IWA Tuam branch. Since her retirement last year as a nurse with the HSE, Mary has commenced volunteering with Age Action “Getting Started” IT classes in Galway.