Jennifer Interviews - Donal K. O'Boyle

Readers of the DCIL magazine will no doubt be familiar with the name Donal K O’Boyle. Myself and my guide dog O.J visited him at his home recently. O.J slept in front of the fire while Donal and I chatted about the support available for people with a disability in Letterkenny.

When he was three months old, Donal contracted polio. He used a walking aid, but never classed himself as a disabled person. Four years ago, he woke up to find himself paralysed from the neck down. When he moved out of the rehabilitation unit at St. Conal’s, Donal was transferred to the Cheshire Apartments. These are self-contained, purpose-built apartments, with a large sitting room/kitchen and a separate bedroom and bathroom. There are a number of meeting rooms that users can avail of within the building. They can also participate in a two year educational training program, which will help them to reach their full potential and to seek employment in the community in the future if they wish. The convenient location of the apartments gives users easy access to facilities in the town, and the Cheshire mini-bus service provides transport.

Living in the Cheshire apartments provided Donal with many positive opportunities. It was here that he was introduced to the WiViK system. The program is an on-screen keyboard that allows users with physical disabilities to access any application within windows XP or Vista on their computer. Through the use of a joystick or other pointing device, the keys work in the same way as they do when you are typing on a physical keyboard. This has enabled Donal to continue with his career as a journalist. During his time at the Cheshire apartments, Donal also became involved with DCIL. He is an active member, and avails of their PA service.

“independence has made me appreciate what I have rather than what I don’t have.”

Two years ago the accessible bungalows were built, and Donal decided that moving to one of these would encourage him to become more independent. “In the Cheshire apartments you have one room, which was perfect for me at the time. Staff are available twenty-four hours a day, which is a great support for anyone who needs it. The bungalows have more space because there are two bedrooms and it is much easier to move a wheelchair around. I felt that the time was right for me to try and become more independent, and this independence has made me appreciate what I have rather than what I don’t have.”

The Cheshire apartments and bungalows both provide excellent opportunities for people with disabilities to live independently. There are not enough accessible housing developments in Co. Donegal. Donal strongly believes that the council must change this, and make affordable housing available for people with disabilities. “Every community should have at least a few houses with easy access, because there are many people who could benefit from them. Too many people with disabilities from Donegal are still in institutions far away from home. They never had the chance to return home because we still don’t have the proper facilities here. We know there is a need so we need to supply enough accessible places to meet that need. DCIL are doing as much as they can on a shoestring budget, but the amount of clients since DCIL was set up has dramatically increased. There is still a long waiting list, and there is a greater demand than there is supply”

Geraldine and Amy are Donal’s PAS, and they assist him with daily tasks, getting to work and meetings and socialising. “A PA will most certainly help a person with a disability. It gives you confidence to go out shopping and do daily tasks. The PAS, who are trained, are there to make sure that you use the independence that you have to the best of your ability. When I go out with Amy or Geraldine, if I can do something for myself they let me do it. They won’t help me until I ask for it. I bought a car that is fully accessible, and can be driven by my PAS. When you use a wheelchair you can’t travel easily on public transport. The Letterkenny bus is accessible, but only for one person at a time. If I didn’t have my own car I would have a lot less freedom.”

"It is up to us to voice our opinions and take responsibility"

It is Donal’s belief that people with disabilities are the people who know best about access issues. It is up to us to voice our opinions and take responsibility, in order to make changes in our society. “If we go to a pub, restaurant, entertainment venue, shop or any inaccessible building, it is our duty to inform staff that it is not accessible. Most people that you talk to will try and do their best. Providing feedback about access issues might also be taken on board for a future building project.” Talking to councillors and local representatives is one way to instigate change in our society. Sitting back and not doing anything about the problem isn’t going to solve it. Donal believes that self pity doesn’t get you very far, and has these words of advice for people with disabilities: