Joanne O’Riordan: Thanks to the carers who make sport accessible

Touching video of deaf-blind Barca fan summarises bond between carers and child

Cesar and Jose Richard, who is  registered as deaf-blind, have become  online sensations after a video of them emerged showing the carer using sign language and a board to allow Jose to experience the Catalan derby

Cesar and Jose Richard, who is registered as deaf-blind, have become online sensations after a video of them emerged showing the carer using sign language and a board to allow Jose to experience the Catalan derby

 

It is very rare in this life that you find someone who gets you. A simple glance, a quick scratch of the ear, without a word exchanged, and that person fully understands you. The relationship between a carer and child with a disability is something words cannot describe. But, on Saturday night during the Catalan derby, a video popped up on my timeline that summarised the relationship better than any linguistic gymnast ever could.

Cesar and Jose Richard have become an online sensation and a feel-good story in this sort of dry and horrible world we call sport. While day after day we see articles full of vitriol ego and the sorts, it was the duo from Colombia who charmed the world.

Jose Richard is registered as deaf-blind, and after losing his hearing and sight in his teens, he lost his love for the beautiful game and will to love. But in Richard’s own words, he found his aide, his guide and his brother in Cesar.

Cesar created a unique form of languages with his hands and using a board made out of wood to help him feel the vibrations generated by the general atmosphere in the stadium.

With a series of hand signals with Cesar moving Jose’s hands around the board, Jose manages to follow every pass, shot, header and moment in the game. Jose even managed to sing along to Cant del Barça at the end and meet his favourite Colombian player, Yerry Mina.

Jose Richard got to meet his favourite Colombian player, Barcelona defender Yerry Mina
Jose Richard got to meet his favourite Colombian player, Barcelona defender Yerry Mina

While the story would bring a tear to a stone, it brought back memories for me on all the sporting events my family and I would have attended. You see, while everyone goes with a pal, a club mate and whoever they can find, the unspoken bond between match patrons and their carers is something truly phenomenal.

As a youngster, I used to follow my siblings who literally ran around Ireland in various athletics competitions. For anyone that knew me or still knows me, they would see me perched inside my father’s jacket like a baby kangaroo or perched upon my mother’s head . . . she was quite small, so we developed a weird submarine pre-attack relationship where I’d be the eyes for her.

Excuse

As time went on, either the kangaroo or submarine trio would be seen across Duhallow at any excuse of a sporting event. Nowadays, the running joke around town is that it’s Speedy Gonzales, aka me, and the hobbling old man behind her, aka my dad. Bizarrely, we became a symbiotic duo due to his mellowness and my not-so mellowness. He works for me, and I work for him. Some days, it could be my brothers or sister and other days it’s my parents, but one thing is for sure: you’d always see us at games. Yeah, it’s fun and we love it, but we’re fans too, just like the rest of you.

Sure, it wasn’t pretty at times and when the wheelchair section, or lack thereof, would be shoved in the back or in the corner, it’s not the match that you remember, it’s the actual fun and banter exchanged between you and your carer. Yeah, there are times you want to scream or cry (I get flashbacks to my John McEnroe-esque breakdown in Páirc Uí Rinn after discovering where the wheelchair spot is), and there are probably times where I get so disheartened by the facilities I ask why I even bother. But, then you meet fellow fans who embrace you regardless of your ability or team, and then you realise it’s more than that.

Joanne O’Riordan: “Sport is created to be enjoyed and is a universal language that should be accessible to all.” Photograph: Cathal Burke/Vipireland.com
Joanne O’Riordan at the Irish Open Golf Championship at The K Club in Straffan, Co. Kildare in 2016. Photograph: Cathal Burke/Vipireland.com

It became more than games for us. It became a process of socialisation where everyone would get to know me as Joanne, not the girl with no limbs. As time went by and as my profile grew, it became apparent to my family and I that I could use my voice to highlight the issues that we all face.

Sport is created to be enjoyed and is a universal language that should be accessible to all. Yes, there are times you want to rip every last hair out of your head and you are fit to kill all around you. But, the sense of belonging and being a part of something where you too are equal. You are no different to anyone else.

So, to all the carers, like my family and Cesar in Colombia, thank you for giving up your time to enable us to experience the beautiful game. Thank you for always disregarding your schedule just to suit our moods and our likes and dislikes.

Sometimes it’s not pretty and I am sure you are looking at other sections and other seats wishing you were closer. But, more importantly, thank you for being our aides, our guides, our confidantes and the other halves we never knew we needed.

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