Joanne O’Riordan’s Speech at the UN ICT Conference

Joanne O’Riordan, shares her experiences with Paul Connelly, Head, Communications and Partnership Promotion, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in fornt of a a 200+ audience of gender, education and tech experts at ITU’s Girls in ICT Day event in New York, 26 April 2012.

Girls in ICT Day 2012

RTE’s News covered her Trip to NY – this video includes footage of her speech (27th April)

(from 3mins 08secs)

Full video of the ITU panel event: Empowering girls through ict how can we encourage young womenin countries around the world to play a greater role in the technology revolution. (Joanne starts from 3:02:20 in the video)

Joanne’s thoughts on the Conferance (from 1:39)

RTE carried the above piece on the news today about Joanne. (26th April)

Below are photos from the ITU Photostream on Flickr


The Cork News: Technology is the limb I never had (26th April)

Evening Echo: 16th Birthday and an invite by Princess Amira to Saudi Arabia (27th April)

Irish Examiner: Joanne issues robot challenge during inspirational United Nations speech (26th April)

Irish Independent: Technology is limb I never had Joanne O’Riordan tells UN (27th April) Includes lots of very nice reader comments.

Peoples Republic of Cork: Joanne O’Riordan appreciation thread

Irish Times: Cork teen calls for robot technology (27th April)

No more! I give up, there ‘s too many articles. Everybody seems to love her 🙂 see all related articles here:”joanne+o’riordan”+”United+Nations”



Full Speech:
“Good afternoon everyone! My name is Joanne O’ Riordan and firstly I’d like to thank all of those at the United Nations and the people from the International Telecommunication Union for this amazing and unique opportunity to speak here in front of you today. Being invited to New York the week of my 16th Birthday is simply unbelievable.

As you can see I was born without my limbs but my motto in life is, No Limbs No Limits. The disability I have is known as Total Amelia and it is one of the rarest conditions known to us. I believe there are only seven people in the world living with this physical form and furthermore there is no medical explanation as to why I was born this way.

However, my family and I have never allowed it to hold me back.

From an early age I have always relied on the use of technology to help advance my abilities. Be this in moving or communicating I developed an understanding of what I could achieve with technology from a young age.

I use technology in all aspects of my life, be it at home, in school or through the wider medium of interacting with others. My parents have told me that when I was one I first began to explore the use of technology with our old computer. I figured out how to use this software by simply moving my ‘hand’ and chin at a faster speed. Today I can type 36 words a minute and for someone with no limbs, I think that’s an incredible achievement in itself.

The computer allowed me to play and follow certain games, which in turn helped me to learn my ABC’s, Math and small words such as Cat and Dog. Needless to say, I’m a fiercely independent person but when I was born the technology that was there then was not as advanced as the technology we have now.

All my young life I’ve struggled and overcome barriers. I’ve surprised doctors, strangers, friends and even my own family by what I have achieved.

I must admit I’m always finding new ways or methods that would allow me to be the same as any other person. There is no such thing as ‘normal’ in my vocabulary. When I started school I, like all the other children, used my hand to write. I did this by putting my pen in between my shoulder and chin and as you can imagine this was an enormous challenge for me but I overcame the obstacle. I have always been breaking down barriers and overcoming obstacles. I do not look at the word Impossible and see it as Impossible. I look at that word and my life and say I’m Possible! Technology has made me even more determined to achieve a better standard and quality of life. I always think, if I can do this now, what would I achieve in the future?

Technology as we know is ever advancing and my question was soon answered when, at the age of seven, I started to develop a spinal condition known as scoliosis. This is a curvature of the spine. Unfortunately, this meant that I was not able to continue to write as I did and I had to find a new way of learning and developing my educational potential.

I’m very lucky that I have the support of my family, as they have never allowed anyone to hold me back. They have done everything in their power to ensure that I would not lose out on my education and technology was key in helping me.

A system was set up which allows my schoolbooks to be put on to CD. This in turn enables me to do all my work through a computer.

Nobody in Ireland has availed of this technology and I was extremely lucky to have a woman by the name of Christine O’ Mahony helping me to make the process much easier. It took months to get the format right but when she did my life ultimately changed.

I now discovered that with one flick of my hand I was able to do all the things my other friends were doing with their fingers. I was able to be as good as them if not better. My quality of life has changed dramatically since I started using technology and only the other day I told my mother that technology is the limb I never had.

I can use my mobile phone, send texts, tweets, update my Facebook, play my PlayStation, Nintendo DS, iPad, iPod, and laptop; without Microsoft, Adobe and Apple in my life I would not be doing and achieving my full potential. In fact I think my life would be quite different to what it is now. Believe it or not I simply use my upper and bottom lip, chin, nose and hand to work most if not all these systems.

Technology has opened up a world of possibilities, through which I have excelled in both my education and social environment around me.
It is fair to say that I have been given the opportunities to grow, learn and adapt my lifestyle in a way that helps me, but I also know there are children and adults out there all over the world who do not have the same chances in life as I do.

I’m asking the Girls in Technology who are here today and who are the leading women within their field to start doing what I do, in my life, ‘Think outside the box’. Think of ways and means that you can make technology more accessible to those who really need it because let’s face it, we all know women are better than men at most things so why not technology too?

It is my wish and it’s my challenge to you and to others out there to build me a robot.

Yes, that’s right a robot! It sounds almost insane but as a child and even today I’ve always wanted and would love to have a robot.

The main thing the robot would be doing is picking up the objects I drop such as a pen, knife, fork, and or my phone.

This robot would become my hands and legs. So for example, if I was in the sitting room and I needed something from the kitchen, I would love for that robot to get me what I needed. I mean – to be fair – when you’re lazy and sitting down most of you use a remote control because you’re too lazy to get up and manually switch the TV over – and trust me that is lazy. So why can’t I have a robot?

Call it crazy, call it insane, call it what you like – but the challenges I face everyday get bigger and far greater to overcome. I know I can overcome these challenges but I need your help. I can’t rely on my parents, my brothers, sister and others all my life. Can I? Certainly not and I don’t want to!

I want to live an independent life just like you. I don’t want to live in the shadow of others because I want to make my own journey in life and I know if I’m given that chance I can and will succeed. I know that there must be someone out there in the world who can do something like this to make life much easier. It would not just help me, but indeed others who are in similar situations. Life is about living and let’s face it Ladies, technology is not just a way of life, it’s a way of living! And just because I have no limbs does not mean I will be limited. And neither should you!

Thank you!”


Click the audio player (above) to listen to Joanne O’Riordan’s speech at the United Nations Conference this evening 6pm (Irish time), entitled:

Technology as Empowerment: a conversation with Joanne O’Riordan on how she uses technology to overcome the limitations of Total Amelia Syndrome.



12 thoughts on “Joanne O’Riordan’s Speech at the UN ICT Conference”

  1. Joanne you are amazing & a thorough inspiration to everyone around the world, god bless you & your family & I hope ye have a ball in New York,it would have been great to meet up with ye xoxo

  2. Joanne you are a brilliant young woman, you are a total inspiration to everybody especially those who might be battling with different problems in their life. Everybody in Ireland are so proud of you….keep up the great work xx

  3. Joanne, you are just fantastic, The people of Millstreet & indeed Ireland are so proud of you tonight. Have a wonderful trip in New York and continued success to you.

  4. well done joanne…we here im millstreet are very proud of you…have a wonderful trip..and a very happy 16th birthday from maria,tony leanne,cian and katie…

  5. Congrats Joanne Thanks to technology I was able to listen to you live on the Internet last evening Brilliant and uplifting speech You have done yourself, your family and of corse Millstreet proud!!!!! Well done

  6. Joanne is an inspiration on so many levels not least the able bodied technology shy senior citizens.

  7. Joanne you were brilliant at the speech in the U.N I really do hope you get a robot!!!!! Well Done And Don’t Let anything hold you back!!!!!! Siobhán

  8. Dear Joanne

    Well done on your speech, which was very inspiring. In fact, well done for being just plain inspiring all the time!

    I’d love to arrange to meet you and your parents and have a chat – maybe you could get in touch with me ( Two of my main research interests are directly related to what you were doing in the last few days(!):
    – encouraging more girls into science, engineeering and technology
    – autonomous robots for domestic applications ( I have a research team currently working on pretty much exactly what you wished for!)

    I look forward to hearing from you!


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