Joanne O’Riordan: Outstanding Young Person of the Year

Teen with rare congenital disorder says award highlights abilities of every citizen

Joanne O’Riordan (19) from Millstreet, Co Cork, with President Michael D Higgins during a visit to Áras an Uachtarain in 2014.  File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Joanne O’Riordan (19) from Millstreet, Co Cork, with President Michael D Higgins during a visit to Áras an Uachtarain in 2014. File photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

Teenager Joanne O’Riordan has been awarded the prestigious Junior Chamber International (JCI) Outstanding Young Person of the Year award.

Ms O’Riordan (19), from Millstreet, Co Cork is one of seven people in the world with Total Amelia, a syndrome in which individuals are born without limbs. She also has curvature of the spine.

Total Amelia, a very rare congenital disorder, is caused by mutations in the WNT3 gene.

Studying criminology

Ms O’Riordan, who is studying criminology at UCC, was informed she had won the award by JCI president Ismail Hazdene.

She said she is “blown away” to receive such an accolade.

“To say I’m over the moon was an understatement. I was joking with my brother Stephen last night that if I am ever interviewed on the Late Late again I’ll have to ask Ryan Tubridy to address me as the Outstanding Young Person of the World.”

Joanne added that the award highlights the ability of every citizen, irrespective of disabilities.

“I want people to realise that people with disabilities are contributing to a wider society in a more positive and helpful way,” she said.

Ms O’Riordan secured over half of the 26,000 online votes. She also secured the judges’ vote. She will travel to Japan in November to pick up her award.

National prominence

Ms O’Riordan rose to national prominence in 2011 when she challenged Taoiseach Enda Kenny about cuts to the disability benefit.

She subsequently gave a keynote speech to the United Nations on how technology has helped her advance her life.

She had won the Rehab Young Person of the Year Award in 2012.