Inspiring Cork Teen Addresses the UN
By Michelle Meagher, Editorial Assistant
June / July 2012
The United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union’s conference, entitled “Girls in Technology,” had a special guest speaker on Thursday, April 26. Joanne O’Riordan, a 16-year-old from Millstreet, Co. Cork, addressed some of the world’s leading women in technology with a keynote speech about how technology has enhanced her life.
Joanne is the first person with a disability to be invited to speak at the conference, and her speech, “Technology and Me,” centered around the theme “Because I’ve no limbs, I won’t be limited.” Joanne’s disability, an extremely rare condition called total amelia, hasn’t kept her from living a full life, and as Joanne explained, it’s thanks to technology.
Technology allows Joanne to do the things anyone else does with their fingers “as good as them, if not better,” she said, citing her remarkable ability to type 36 words a minute. She credited the devices she relies on every day with opening up a “world of possibilities,” in terms of both education and her social environment.
Though technology has progressed since Joanne was a child and has made less challenging her uphill battle to conquer everyday tasks, there is still much more to be discovered. In her speech, Joanne challenged the assembled delegates to think “outside the box,” and to try to find new ways of making technology more accessible for those most in need of it. She asked the world’s leading women in technology to develop a robot that could simply pick up dropped objects.
Joanne’s advocacy gained attention in December, when she spoke out publicly against the Irish government’s plan to cut the disability allowance for teenagers. The plan was reversed, and Joanne was invited to speak on the Late Late Show, Ireland’s most popular night-time talk show.