Christina McCarthy - Expert Assistive Technology User | Enable Ireland

Personal Stories

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Christina McCarthy - Expert Assistive Technology User

Christina McCarthy is 26 years old and living in South Dublin. She has been blind from birth. 

Christina McCarthy next to her laptop on a desk

"I’ve always used assistive technology from when I got my first manual braille typewriter when I was five years old.  Since I was 12 years old, I’ve had a talking laptop. Right now I am using a laptop with a braille display. This devise converts what it sees on the screen into braille so that I can read what’s on the screen myself. It is a much more advances piece of equipment to what I would have started out using. I much prefer it as I don’t like synthesized speech and I am a great reader. I learn better when I read something myself, rather than just listening to a synthesized voice reading it to me.  I got this device when I was a student in Trinity College studying for a degree in French and Spanish and, luckily, I was able to take it with me when I left. But that is not always the case. 

I’ve been lucky in that I got the technology I needed to complete my education and it was fully funded. But I know not everyone has such a good experience getting the AT devices that they need. And I know that a lot of this, in the early days, was down to my parent’s persistence both in securing the technology in the first place and then learning how to operate it. When I got my first braille machine at age five, we got no training or support with it. My mother had to read the manual and first learn how to use it herself and then teach me to use it.  

Not funding AT doesn’t look at the big picture. I wouldn’t have got the education that I did without my assistive technology. That’s not a maybe, I simply would not have been able to graduate with a degree without it. If you can’t get your education, then you won’t be able to get employment and then you will be dependent upon the state rather than contributing to it. That’s why we need to invest in the equipment and then the training and support so that all users can get the most out of their assistive technology. 

It doesn’t have to be expensive specialist equipment either. New mainstream technology, like the iPhone, make my life a lot easier. Voice technology is built into the iPhone, meaning I don’t need anything extra to access apps like Halo or the Dublin Bus app, all of which aid my independence. I can also use the phone to take pictures of my clothes and then it will tell me the colour. Great for making sure I don’t clash! colour. Great for making sure I don’t clash! 

I’m currently looking for a job, having just completed a diploma in PR. I’m finding that employers don’t always know about the grants and supports that are available. The employment rate for people who are blind or visually impaired is only 14%, much too low. If more employers knew about the technology and the grants available then more blind and visually impaired people would be able to take up paid employment. When interviewing for jobs, I find myself having to tell prospective employers about what is available to try to reassure them that there are supports and grants for employers.  

We need to invest in the technology and then make sure users and prospective employers know about what’s available, where to get it and how it can help them to complete their education and enter the workforce successfully. That’s what I would like to see for the future of Assistive Technology in Ireland. “

Christina features as a Third Level Education case study in ‘Assistive technology for People with Disabilities and Older People. A Discussion Paper’ published by Enable Ireland and the Disability Federation of Ireland. 

Graphic showing the alternative paths for a person with a disability through third level with and without Assistive Technology. With AT leads to economic independence and without AT leads to economic dependence.

 

Find out more about Assistive Technology

Assistive Technology in the Workplace - A Practical Guide for Employers

Assistive Technology For People with Disabilities and Older People.

Summary: Assistive Technology For People with Disabilities and Older People.