The Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) was founded 50 years ago. In the 1960s, services for people with physical disability were meagre, sporadic or in some cases non-existent. There was no legislation. Public attitudes of charity or silence prevailed. Near total inaccessibility of buildings, public services and facilities was the norm. From this beginning, IWA gradually began to address the variety of needs and injustices facing people with physical disability.
From the outset IWA services were driven by the needs of members. A 'social model' of service delivery was adopted. Services were community-based. A central goal was the integration of people with disabilities into the community.
Underpinning service delivery and the progress of the organisation was the massive amount of time unselfishly contributed by many volunteers throughout the country. Without this, most services would not have been delivered.
By the 1970s, IWA had over 1000 members and had initiated services that included: Occupational Therapy; Holidays; Transport; Wheelchair Sales, Repair and Loans; Social Activities; and a Driving School. Areas such as Access, Education, Housing, Training and Employment and Residential Care had been identified as requiring services. The 1980s and 1990s saw the development of Day Resource Centres, Independent Living Apartments and provision of Care Attendants. Most recently, IWA has developed Peer Counselling services, improved Transport and Assisted Living Services and implemented many community-based projects.
Today, IWA members can be justly proud of the advances in service delivery and the relative improvements in public facilities. Many of these would simply not have happened without IWA. IWA is now a major service provider, an effective lobbyist of government and decision makes and a strong advocate for the rights of people with a disability. With over 20,000 members, IWA continues to grow.