Fifty years behind the wheel of change

The Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland (DDAI) in Ballindine, Claremorris, is celebrating 50 years behind the wheel in driving independence and equal opportunity.

The charity was founded at a meeting in Claremorris Town Hall on Sunday, January 25, 1970, and on Saturday, January 25, this year, the present board held a commemorative meeting at the same venue.

The DDAI was established amidst a wave of national protests at the lack of government supports for drivers with a disability in Ireland. It now has over 5,000 members and helps thousands more to learn to drive or begin driving again following injury or illness at its training centre in Ballindine.

Pat Carty, chairperson, DDAI, said: “In 1970, people with a disability struggled to be taken seriously in many roles or be even given a voice. It was clear to those founding members that an organisation governed, run and led by people with a disability was urgently needed to demand that respect for themselves.”

The DDAI will also be marking the half-century with a conference and celebration lunch in April with a number of special guests, including former RTÉ presenter Anne Doyle and activist and sports journalist Joanne O’Riordan.

Recently, the DDAI has been working with Transport Infrastructure Ireland in developing a nationwide solution that will fulfil disabled drivers’ exemption from toll fees, with further details to be announced in February 2020.

Martin Forde, the retired founding director and the first editor of the charity’s magazine, Steering Wheel, also attended the commemorative meeting as a guest. He said: “My late eldest brother Thomas was also physically disabled like me and he planted the seed in my early teens about setting up an organisation of disabled people for disabled people. When I grew up, he was my inspiration to join with other like-minded people in establishing the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland.

“For me, the ‘game-changing’ moment was when the association successfully negotiated tax concessions for the purchase of suitably adapted vehicles with the government of the time. It provided previously unattainable opportunities to seek employment, have independence and enjoy an improved social life. I am greatly encouraged with the amount of progress the association has made and continues to make in improving the lives of people with a disability.”

Since its inception, the DDAI has been at the forefront of advocating for government initiatives to improve access for its members to society and to contributing in full to it. It has been involved in many initiatives designed to make life easier for disabled drivers.

Ken Fox, the current chief executive officer for the DDAI, said: “There is a lot of current comment about Ireland’s car dependency and the lack of public transport. People with a disability, who don’t have many of the transport alternatives available to them, have to adapt a vehicle as best they can from their own resources if they want to access education, a career or a social life, or be reliant on other people. The supports to access that remain today, and some have been lost, were won by that generation from 1970.”

Martin Donoghue, the DDAI’s first ever chief executive, credited his learning to drive as a turning point in his life, giving him a successful career as a band leader and music teacher, while Derek Farrell, a former chief executive, was instrumental in the implementation of the EU Disabled Persons’ Parking Card in Ireland in 1997.

The DDAI was centrally involved in the introduction of the Disabled Drivers and Passengers Tax Relief Scheme and subsequent improvements to it. The tax relief scheme is currently used by around 12,000 people at present. It works closely with An Garda Siochana’s Operation Enable and other organisations to tackle illegal parking in accessible spaces.

Additionally, the DDAI became the charity partner for the FuelService app in Ireland in early 2019, which helps drivers to locate and contact a participating service station where staff are available to help them refuel.

Richard Ryder, marketing and communications manager, explained that FuelService is currently available in all Applegreen stations, with other fuel retailers set to come on board in 2020.

The DDAI has overseen and supported Ability Enterprises, a SOLAS specialist training provider, with courses designed especially for those who may have difficulty with mainstream programmes due to illness, injury or disability. Ability Enterprises has been adapting its offering to meet current needs since 1980.

It also manages the Shopmobility scheme in five retail shopping centres throughout Ireland. It is funded by the DDAI with support from the participating centres.

And, after 50 active years, the charity isn't slowing down yet. “The DDAI continues to be focused on providing turning points for successive generations of people with disabilities, be it through assessment, tuition or information and guidance,” concluded Mr. Fox.


*The photograph above was taken at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland (DDAI) in Claremorris Town Hall on January 25 last. Front, from left, were: Allen O’Connor, treasurer; Pat Carty, chairperson; Ann Marie Jordan, vice-chairperson; Emma McManus; Seamus Reidy; and Martin Forde, retired founding director. At the back were: Ken Fox, chief executive officer; and Richard Ryder, marketing and communications manager.

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