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, 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 to 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 2020 with some special guests, including former RTE 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. Martin 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 is the current chief executive officer for the DDAI, and he 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 else be reliant on other people. The supports to access that remain today, and some have been lost, were won by that generation from 1970."