Nineteen-year-old Cork student Joanne O’Riordan has been named the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Outstanding Young Person of the World 2015 for her contribution to world peace, children’s and human rights.
From Millstreet in Cork, O’Riordan is one of seven people in the world with Total Amelia, a syndrome in which people are born without limbs. She also has curvature of the spine.
O’Riordan, who received more than half of the 26,000 votes, was selected by the judging panel because of her contribution to world peace, children’s and human rights.
O’Riordan is currently studying criminology at UCC.
She has been a long and prominent supporter of these issues, openly challenging the Irish Government on cuts to disability allowances in 2011.
She achieved global prominence when she addressed the UN at the International Union Conference ‘Girls on Technology’ in New York in 2012.
In 2014, a documentary film about O’Riordan, entitled No Limbs, No Limits, was produced and directed by her brother Steven.
Last year, O’Riordan was recognised as a top role model for 2014 as a change maker in the Top 100 Women in STEM Awards by Siliconrepublic.com.
In 2012 she addressed an ITU delegation for ‘Girls in ICT Day’ in New York and issued a challenge to engineers to build her a robot that would be able to assist her day-to-day, particularly to pick up things she has dropped.
A team at TCD’s School of Engineering, led by assistant professor Kevin Kelly, took up the challenge and built Robbie the Robot, which was unveiled in March last year.
After passing a UN inspection last year during a visit of the UN’s Broadband Commission to Dublin, the president of Rwanda Paul Kagame pledged €50,000 in additional funding for the robot.
Joanne O’Riordan: No limbs, no limits
In her famous UN speech in 2012, O’Riordan said her motto in life is ‘no limbs, no limits’ and said her family never allowed her condition to hold her back. She said technology was key in helping her grow and learn.
“From an early age, I have always relied on the use of technology to help advance my abilities. Be this in moving or communicating I developed an understanding of what I could achieve with technology from a young age,” she said.
“I use technology in all aspects of my life, be it at home, in school or through the wider medium of interacting with others. My parents have told me that when I was one I first began to explore the use of technology with our old computer, I figured out how to use this software by simply moving my ‘hand’ and chin at a faster speed.
“Today I can type 36 words a minute and for someone with no limbs, I think that’s an incredible achievement in itself,” she said at the time.
Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Intel, Eircom, Fidelity Investments, ESB, Accenture and CoderDojo.