Friends of ‘no limbs, no limits’ teen to crowdfund making of documentary

27 Jul 2012

Sixteen-year-old Joanne O'Riordan

The brave 16-year-old Cork teenager Joanne O’Riordan who has no limbs but wowed the world at the UN Girls in ICT Day earlier this year with her positive attitude and love of technology is to have a documentary made about her by her brother Steven.

However, in a sorry twist, friends and supporters are going to have to crowdsource the funds for the film because the Irish Film Board has turned down funding support for the project. So far, a Facebook campaign has begun in earnest to help raise the funding.

It is understood that two weeks ago the Irish Film Board turned down an application for funding to make the documentary. The project requires €80,000 for completion.

Sources say Joanne’s brother, filmmaker Steven, who was spearheading the project, held onto the news for more than a week because he didn’t want to upset his sister.

Steven previously produced and directed a breakthrough documentary for TG4 called The Forgotten Maggies which followed the lives of several Magdalene women after they left Ireland’s now-infamous Magdalene Laundry institutions.

It is understood he was approved for a development fund of €8,000 to make the documentary by the film board in April.

Characteristically, when Joanne was given the news that the funding had been turned down she stoically suggested crowdfunding the film instead.

Writing on the Facebook page, Steven said: “Again Joanne and I are disappointed!!! But as Joanne has said, ‘When there is a will, there is a way’. We just now need to find the way!!!!”

‘Build me a robot’

O’Riordan wowed the world in April when she spoke at a UN conference for Girls in ICT Day on how technology changed her life.

She is one of only seven people in the world with total amelia, a congenital birth condition which causes the absence of all four limbs.

Speaking before an audience of 200 global leaders and gender, technology and education experts, O’Riordan said her motto in life is ‘no limbs, no limits’ and said technology was key to help her grow and learn. She challenged these leaders to build her a robot.

She said: “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.

“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.

She said technology made her more determined to achieve a better standard and quality of life. When she started school, she learned how to write by placing her pen between her shoulder and chin. However, she started to develop a spinal condition called scoliosis at the age of seven, which meant that she could not use this method to write anymore.

To help her continue working, all of her schoolbooks were put onto a CD, which lets her do all her work on a PC.

“Nobody in Ireland has availed of this technology and I was extremely lucky to have a woman by the name of Christine O’Mahony helping me to make the process much easier,” said O’Riordan.

“It took months to get the format right but when she did my life ultimately changed. I now discovered that with one flick of my hand I was able to do all the things my other friends were doing with their fingers.

“I was able to be as good as them, if not better. My quality of life has changed dramatically since I started using technology and only the other day I told my mother that technology is the limb I never had,” she said.

At a time when Ireland needs positive stories to encourage people to look forward and learn and not to fear the future, the documentary on the life of Joanne O’Riordan could be of benefit for the country. Unfortunately, funding was not forthcoming from the State.

We will post more details about the crowdfunding project as they come available.

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