A speech by Joanne O’Riordan: A life without limits

27 Aug 2012

Pictured: Joanne O'Riordan at the Inventorium last week

Earlier this year a brave 16 year-old from Cork with no limbs wowed the world at the UN Girls in ICT Day with her positive attitude. This week she told an Inventorium workshop organised by the Irish Internet Association, the NDRC and Vodafone how technology has changed her life.

Earlier this year, addressing 200 global leaders at a UN meeting in April O’Riordan explained how technology made her more determined to achieve a better standard and quality of life.

Last week, at a special two-day workshop at Crane Street the NDRC hooked up with Vodafone, the NCBI, the Irish Internet Association and the mobile open community group Mobile Monday to encourage Irish interest in a €200,000 European competition for the design smartphone apps that are targeted toward the needs of older people and those with disabilities. In the ensuing speech you’ll read here Joanne implored innovators to keep innovating and create technology that makes a difference.

 Joanne’s amazing life story is to be told through the making of a documentary by her brother, filmmaker Steven O’Riordan and the project has just received support of €25,000 from Rehab.

Here’s the speech Joanne made in Crane Street last week:

Good morning everyone. My name is Joanne O’ Riordan and first of all I’d like to thank all those at the Irish Internet Association for this amazing and unique opportunity to speak here in front of you today.

As you can see I was born without my limbs but my motto in life is ‘No Limbs, No Limits’.

From an early age I have always relied on the use of technology to help advance my abilities. I do this in all aspects of living be it at home, in school or through the wider social environment around me. I think it is fair to say that without technology in my life I would not be doing and achieving my full potential.

I can shop online, download my favourite music and even stay in touch with my family and friends. It provides me with endless hours of fun and has been instrumental in my education. I have learned how to adapt my lifestyle in such a way that I know I can and will achieve all my goals.

Technology is unique just like me. I’m literally only one of seven people in the world living with a rare condition known as Total Amelia. There is no medical explanation as to why I was born this way but I have never allowed it to hold me back. I’m always adapting and changing my lifestyle in such a way that I have surprised doctors, nurses and even my own family. I allow myself the opportunity, time and space to grow as a person.

I want to live an independent life just like you. I don’t want live in the shadow of others I want to make my own journey in life and I know that if I’m given the chance I can and will succeed.

‘We should all want to live in a society whereby you can feel included and respected’

In that instance I have to congratulate Vodafone for providing a platform, which allows people to come up with ideas and concepts that will not just help me but indeed others like me in similar situations. Only a few months ago I told my mother technology is the limb I never had.

We should all want to live in a society whereby you can feel included and respected. Making technology more readily available to older people and people with disabilities will help us to fully engage in an ever changing world because lets face it irrespective of our ability we all want to live the best life possible.

Almost 12 years ago I was introduced to technology. I sat in my high chair banging on my keyboard, figuring out how to manoeuvre my up and bottom lip, chin, nose and hand to work my old computer. 12 years later I have learned how to use my iPhone, Mac and iPod but I know we can take technology one-step. We just need to find the right people to do the right things. I love my apps and I love the freedom I have when I apply technology to my life.

Today I can type 36 words a minute and for someone with no limbs I think that is an incredible achievement in its self.

The Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Award is important as gives us the chance to change the lives of people for the better. I rely on the intelligence of others to create a world whereby I can feel equal and included. It is the minds of the future that will unlock the doors to allow us all to fully engage connect and understand our true capability as human beings.

Simple, smart, easy access, that is all we are asking for, that is all we want. I’m 16 and just because I have no limbs but this does not mean I should be limited.

Challenge to app developers: enable a life without limits

Naturally, there are some limitations in my life but I know that if I’m given the chance I can and will succeed. I want to live in a world whereby I can open and close doors. I want to live in a world whereby I can cook and clean with ease. I want to be able to go to university, I want to become the best person I can be but I like so many others out there need your help.

We need people to come up with an app or a device that will allow full participation in society. An app that will open my door and let me see the endless possibilities that lay before me.

If we all work together, with a common goal we can and will overcome any obstacle or barrier. You need to do what I do in my life think outside the box. Think of ways and means, which we can develop software that is easy for all users. Think of ways and means that we can be inclusive.

They are people out there in the world living life in a way that is not acceptable or justifiable. We have a chance to change that. You have a chance to help those people and me. You have a chance to change the way we see the world and enrich the lives of others who you will never meet. If I had that chance I would grab it with both arms. The difference is I don’t.

When you make this app, design your site or indeed other technology services think of me. Think of the way I look, the way I move and the way talk. Think of my body structure, think of my height, think about my limitations, and think about where I sit.

Think of me and apply that to your apps. Apply that when you’re designing, developing and enhancing a product. Think of the elderly person living at home; think of the young boy or girl that has cerebral Parsley, downs syndrome, Autism.

Think of them of them and then think of your app. Then think of ways and means whereby you can help these people to live a better quality of life, a quality of life that can be changed and enhanced by the flick of one switch, one button, one app.

If you see that person and you understand their needs and you understand their limitations you will understand that you hold the key to help them and me life a better fuller life.

Thank You!

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years