Social Ability Kilkenny: Focusing on abilities rather than disabilities

Paul Crilly, 36, from Kilkenny City, was born with a mild intellectual disability. He recently established Social Ability Kilkenny, which is designed to bring people with and without disabilities together on a social level and to raise awareness of some of the issues. He explains why to Conor Kane

I don’t believe in talk, I believe in action.

I’ve just started a social group for people with, and without, disabilities, Social Ability Kilkenny. I got the idea from [Minister of State] Finian McGrath who said we shouldn’t be looking at other people’s disabilities, but at their abilities.

We started around six or seven months ago and I researched who I would want on our committee, but it will take another six or seven months to get it properly off the ground. We had our first event in Billy Byrne’s pub in Kilkenny and it went very, very well. About 20 people turned up.

The idea is that we’re looking at two aspects to the group, one is raising awareness and the other is social. We could decide to go for a meal, maybe, on a Saturday night or maybe just meet up in the pub and have a chat.

The group has definitely helped me and helped me to make new friends. My confidence has gone up an awful lot since it started, although I won’t say it hasn’t been stressful at time, because it has.

I myself have a mild intellectual disability. It would be parallel to what somebody with autism has. I would sometimes want things done, now. That’s my make-up. I never got any support with how to be flexible.

I struggle with my social skills. If any of my friends sent me a message on Facebook or on email, I’m googling it all the time because I don’t understand a word. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to ask people, because I don’t want to look like I’m stupid.

I just feel that there needs to be more awareness around people’s needs.

The Government needs to invest more in what people are doing on the ground. They need to put the money into things like the group I’m starting up. I see potential in it but we need more people to help us. The Government has a duty here to step up to the plate.

The money that the service-providers get should be halved and more given to groups like ours. Some service-providers expect family members and friends to pick up the pieces the whole time. They need to understand that they’re paid by the State to provide a service and they shouldn’t be expecting other people to fill in the gaps. But there are a lot of service-providers out there who are very good.

I also think children with disabilities need to be given more support, for example children with mild disabilities. It has to start somewhere and it should start in school. All of the schools need to get involved. There are schools here in Kilkenny who are very good at doing their job but one or two elsewhere that need to up their game.

I went to the School of the Holy Spirit at primary level and to the Mother of Fair Love School at secondary, both special schools.

My mother and father broke up when I was about 12 and I fell back a bit after that and got depression when I was 17 or 18. I wasn’t able to handle the break-up because it was all new to me. Because of that I’ve had a couple of knockbacks.

I was working at Callan Co-Op but I had a big operation on my arm. I intend to go back.

Last year my uncle passed away, Michael Ducksy Walsh, the famous handballer, and my grandmother had passed away three months before that. In January it kind of hit me and that’s what drove me to get involved with the group.

Ducksy gave so much back to Enable Ireland and I wanted to do the same and follow on what he was doing. He was such a nice person and that helped me deal with his death, the fact that he gave back to much. Enable Ireland couldn’t say enough about him and the help that he gave.

I grew up in Kilkenny. Now I live on my own in my own duplex and have been living on my own for the last two or three years. That’s going very well for me. It can be a small bit of a struggle because when you’re on your own you can be very isolated and I find it hard to make friends, so this group is about making friends and getting the word out there to others.

My mam, Vera, supports me very much. She helps me with my medication. My brother, David, is very good to me.

There are a lot of people out there who are very good. For example, TJ Reid [All-Ireland-winning hurler] has helped me out at TJ Reid Fitness. There are so many people who want to give back to the community, I don’t know where I’d be without some of them.

A lot of positives have already come out of our group. A lot of it is about confidence really. We probably will need Finian McGrath’s help down the road because we do need a structure in place. We can’t do it all on our own, we need help.

It’s very hard to get anybody to go to anything if they hear the words “disability group” so I’d like it to improve awareness. It’s not just a disability group, it’s to bring everyone together as a social group because everyone should be treated equally.

I’d like to see a public awareness campaign about making places accessible to all people. By not having your place accessible you’re telling people “we don’t want you here”. People want to feel valued and I find people’s attitude can be missing something. When you go into a place they can be kind of abrupt with you. I find that an awful lot. Sometimes they don’t serve you. It’s just a lack of understanding.

The group is very positive. There are a lot of negatives but I believe in outweighing the negatives. Everybody is getting to know each other and getting used to each other. We need, as a group, to start bonding and to start going out socially. People are becoming friends, but friendship doesn’t happen overnight. It happens because people want to be your friends.

I’m 36. Because of my intellectual disability, I have very low confidence. But I’m after getting so much better since the group started. I need to be able to relax.

I’m a big supporter of Waterford FC and I’ve made some friends down there. So much so, I was talking to someone down there about giving us a talk. He said if we needed him or someone to come up to us, about how to improve the experience for people with disabilities and make it easier to go to matches, to get in touch.

We have a Facebook page, Social Ability Kilkenny. That’s how we get the word out. The best thing is personal experience — we’re all learning together.

I’m a great believer in being positive and getting the message out there.

Once things start off and get off the ground, people will start to recognise what we’re doing.

I don’t care what people say about the group or any individual in the group, I only care about what the group is about.

December 3 is International Day for People with Disabilities. Maybe this is something that will improve in time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.


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