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Speak out and be a catalyst for change for children with learning disabilities

A setback on a day out with her son led Niamh Donohoe to inspire a local business to make changes that will help other children with disabilities and keep their right to be spontaneous
Picture of Niamh Donohoe with her son Jay. A setback on a day out with her son led her to inspire a local business to make changes that will help other children with disabilities.

A setback on a day out with her son led Niamh Donohoe to inspire a local business to make changes that will help other children with disabilities and keep their right to be spontaneous

My son Jay has an intellectual disability, autism, cortical visual impairment and cerebral palsy. As a mother and an intellectual disability nursing student I am aware of how multiple disability diagnosis can limit social inclusion. His disabilities have left him isolated in life.

Unfortunately, children with disabilities often struggle to keep up with their peers, and as a parent it is hard to watch. But this is where I see my main role: I am Jays biggest fan. Every decision I make has him in mind and I make life as good as possible for him.

I felt so upset for my

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A setback on a day out with her son led Niamh Donohoe to inspire a local business to make changes that will help other children with disabilities and keep their right to be spontaneous

Picture of Niamh Donohoe with her son Jay. A setback on a day out with her son led her to inspire a local business to make changes that will help other children with disabilities.
Niamh Donohoe with her son Jay

My son Jay has an intellectual disability, autism, cortical visual impairment and cerebral palsy. As a mother and an intellectual disability nursing student I am aware of how multiple disability diagnosis can limit social inclusion. His disabilities have left him isolated in life.

Unfortunately, children with disabilities often struggle to keep up with their peers, and as a parent it is hard to watch. But this is where I see my main role: I am Jay’s biggest fan. Every decision I make has him in mind and I make life as good as possible for him.

‘I felt so upset for my son. It was as if he did not to matter’

Every weekend, Jay and I plan trips, activities or adventures. One day we decided to go to a popular café and bakery.

When we arrived the car park was busy. I drove around looking for disability parking bays but, when I eventually found them, they were far from the main entrance, with no path alongside the thoroughfare.

Navigating through the car park was another challenge, as Jay uses a cane to guide him. I was flustered and worn out before we even entered the building.

As we approached the front door, I noticed that there were three disability spaces right beside it, but that a retail display had been erected on them. I felt so upset for my son. It was as if he did not to matter. Retail had been prioritised over accessibility.

Huge response to community social media post

I tried not to dwell on it and we went on to enjoy our day. When we got home, though, I decided to write about my experience on a community social media page, sharing a photo of the blocked spaces.

There was a huge response to the post and a general sense of shock that a respected business such as this would disregard people with disabilities. In its response, the café pointed out that spaces had been provided, but it was accepted that the provision was not enough. The allocation of spaces in this car park was focused on supply rather than function.

In response to the negative publicity, I was invited to meet the managing director of the café company and its construction team to advise them on how they could address the problem.

After meeting with me, the company agreed to every one of my suggestions

I took the opportunity to present the ideal scenario: four new spaces beside the main door, European standards and directional signage, clearly defined pathways, a one-way traffic system and a pedestrian crossing.

Following a positive meeting, the company carried out every suggestion. The result was amazing.

I want others to be inspired to do the same. Speak out and see action. I want my son and others with a disability to be able to access all parts of society unimpeded. ‘Jay’s Law 2020: the right to be spontaneous’. Now, wouldn’t that be wonderful?


Niamh Donohoe is an intellectual disability nursing student at Trinity College Dublin in Dublin, Ireland

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