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'This is why my vote is so important to me'

Those with Down Syndrome write about the importance of their vote and why they are engaging in the political system.

My Opinion, My Vote education programme is a two year course aimed at empowering people with Down Syndrome through active citizenship and participation in elections.

Launched by Down Syndrome Ireland, the education programme aims to encourage people with Down Syndrome to examine and discuss how political decisions impact and affect their lives, thus supporting them to exercise active political influence like their peers.

DSI My Opinion My Vote Pic 2 Gráinne de Paor (centre) Cathal Griffin (second from the left) Sheena Walsh (far right) Source: Conor_Healy_Photography

PEOPLE WITH INTELLECTUAL disabilities such as those with Down syndrome (DS) are those whose life conditions are most dependent on political decisions yet they represent the people in society who are most frequently excluded from the political process.

My Opinion, My Vote aims to change that through empowerment and helping those with DS to find and use their voice through politics.

The programme encourages them to form and express an informed opinion/ decision during local, national and European elections and referendums.

Eileen Dunne Source: DSI

Here, some of the participants explain why their vote is so important to them:

Eileen Dunne, Virginia, County Cavan 

Main issue: Speech & Language

Eileen feels very strongly about speech and language provision for people with Down syndrome

Communication is too important. It is about everything – speaking and the non-verbal communication. I think people with DS should get much more speech therapy. I really think so. I would ask the politicians to answer the question about giving much more speech therapy to people with DS. People with DS want to be able to talk for themselves. If they can’t do that, it means other people will talk for them and I don’t think that is good or right.

Roisin De Burca

Roisin de Burca, Galway

Main Issue: Employment

Roisin is from Connemara in Co. Galway. She is a member of Down Syndrome Ireland’s National Advisory Council (NAC) which comprises of 13 adults from across Ireland who represent the voice of people with DS in DSI.

Roisin passed her leaving cert in 2009, including an honour in honours leaving cert Irish. She later completed a Business Course at GTI. Roisin’s great passion is writing. She has been writing scripts, stories and poetry since she was a child. Roisin is bilingual and speaks fluent English and Irish.

Despite Roisin’s many skills and wonderful work ethic, she is currently unemployed.

We need more jobs. It is very hard for people with disabilities for find a job. Opportunity is what we need. I am not working at the moment. I would love to be out working in an environment that is acceptable and challenging for a person with a disability, who could really bring a lot to the workforce.The one message I have for candidates and political parties is to create new jobs and opportunities for people. What employment opportunities will there be for me in Galway?
I do like politics, I find it interesting but the lack of employment for people with disabilities in Ireland makes me think that I am not so sure about politicians.

Sarah Purcell

Sarah Purcell, Naas, County Kildare

Issue: Speech & Language

Sarah is currently completing Down Syndrome Ireland’s Latch-On adult literacy programme in Naas and has signed up to do the My Opinion My Vote programme in September 2016.

Sarah presents with a bilateral hearing loss and wears a hearing aid on each ear. Her hearing loss coupled with the speech and language disorder commonly experienced by individuals with DS means that her speech and language needs are quite complex, despite this, she and her mother Cora cannot remember the last time Sarah received speech and language therapy from the state.

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They estimate that it may have been during primary school, approximately 15 years ago.

Fortunately, Sarah has availed of speech and language therapy through the Kildare branch of DSI. This doesn’t come easily though as her parents, like many others pay an hourly rate and fundraise to subsidise the fees through the branch.

Speech therapy can really help people like me. It is important for children, teenagers and adults to get speech therapy. It is not very fair when we just don’t get it. I love to be socialising with friends.I have friends who have DS and friends from my school who don’t have DS. I love doing courses too, like my Latch-On course, maybe photography and I dance. Speech therapy can help with everything, it is an important part of life for me.

Cathal Griffin, Glenbeigh, Kerry

I like doing the My Opinion My Vote course. I do the course every Friday at the IT in Tralee. Basically it is all about
politics and the politicians in Ireland and in Europe. We learn about political issues like education, employment and justice….things like that.It is good really to know about these things when you are meeting politicians and voting. We went to the Dáil last week and to the European Parliament in Brussels last year. I will be voting in the General Election and I know what to do.We practice voting and have elections during class all the time. It is very important to go out and vote.

Sheena Walsh, Naas, Kildare

I do the My Opinion My Vote programme in Naas on a Monday. It is very good to know about politics. We are doing unit 9 now about the European Union.We went to Brussels as a part of it….visited the European Parliament….the biggest parliament in the World. There is a lot to learn about with politics and I have to take it all in. I will be voting.

Cian O'Connor

Cian O’ Connor, Dundrum, Dublin

We were in a bad recession. Things are better now. People with DS need more choices in life – more education programmes after school and independence. I work in Pinnochio restaurant in Ranelagh.

I did an Italian cookery course with Flavour of Italy and I impressed them, so they offered me a job. I know I am lucky to have a great job and great people to work with. Most people with Down syndrome don’t have jobs and I don’t think that is fair. It is important to work and earn your own money.

These contributions were collected by Gráinne de Paor, Head of Adult Education at Down Syndrome Ireland. For more information on My Opinion, My Vote visit here

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