Limbless Irish teen doesn't wish to inspire, she wants to be famous
As St. Patrick's Day approaches, Emma Tracey speaks to Joanne O'Riordan, a disabled 16 year-old who is a household name back in Emma's home country, Ireland.
I first saw Joanne on Irish television 16 years ago. She was just a baby and her parents did the talking but it knocked my teenage socks off. Bursting with pride for their little girl with no limbs, the O'Riordans left chat show host Pat Kenny in no doubt of their high expectations for her future. Now she's well into her teens and has minor celebrity status with the nation seeing her regularly speak about disability matters.
Her image is relentlessly positive so I ask about what she finds difficult. "It's the fact I can't do things for myself. Now that I'm getting older, I want my hair and makeup done. The other night, before going to a party, I had to wait for my sister Gillian to come over and do it.
"It is frustrating that it causes problems for me if I'm left alone for even five minutes. I can't just do my own thing. I can't just throw myself on the couch and get the remote myself."
These negatives don't colour who she is though and what she wants to achieve.
After that early television appearance I didn't hear of Joanne O'Riordan again until she hit the headlines in Ireland just over a year ago. I remembered her parents determination and wasn't surprised when I saw that she had turned into a rather feisty individual.
The country's leader, Enda Kenny (no relation to the TV presenter), broke a promise he had personally made to Joanne on the election trail. Anxious about her future independence, she had actively sought reassurance from him and He told her that he wouldn't cut disability benefits to young people if he won. But in his very first budget after winning the election, that's exactly what he did cut.
Joanne's subsequent open letter of disappointment in the Irish Examiner newspaper gained a lot of attention and a video of that broken promise to her emerged and went viral. The government did a U-turn.
"I thought it would be just one more protest that would be swept under the carpet", Joanne tells me, "a one day thing, a one hit wonder". But her public dismay had made waves. Visually striking and a good talker, Joanne had captured the hearts of the Irish people, creating a real buzz on social media.
Just days after her letter was printed, Joanne was invited to be a guest on one of Ireland's most watched programmes, The Late Late Show. It was this appearance that made her a household name in Ireland. Displaying a great sense of humour she told host Ryan Tubridy about taking the unlikely role of nurse in her school play even though she has no arms or legs before then asking for his job - she said she could do it better than him.
Joanne loves to meet famous people
She currently attends a small secondary school where she is well respected but next year Joanne plans to enter the far bigger world of university to study journalism. Her mum is her primary carer currently but Joanne says she wouldn't want her there all the time: "There has to be a bit of craic... but I will probably live at home."
In April 2012, she spoke at a Girls in ICT event at the UN Headquarters in New York about the role technology plays in her life. At the end of her speech, she asked the boffins in the audience to create her a robot to give her full independence. Technologists at MIT and Apple took this seriously and have visited Joanne in Ireland to better understand her needs.
Joanne uses technology every day. She has a laptop for school and homework but tells me that she's addicted to her iPhone. "Depending on my mood that day, I'll work the phone using my top lip, nose, bottom lip, chin or my little left arm, what the doctors call a tree stump.
"To type on a keyboard, I clench a pen between my teeth and I stab the keys."
Joanne says she can type 36 words a minute and admits it "probably looks hilarious, my head bopping up and down at a hundred miles per hour".
She won the 2012 Irish Young Person of the Year award and her public profile will likely rise when a documentary about her is released later this year though it's fair to say she's probably already Ireland's most famous disabled person.
Her brother Steven has made the film; he is a successful documentary maker in his own right but is still mostly referred to as Joanne O'Riordan's brother.
Joanne enjoys her celebrity and admits she and Steven want different things from the film. "It is an uplifting documentary," says Joanne. "People are supposed to come out of it feeling like they can go and climb Everest. Steven has brilliant ideas of winning Oscars... but I just want to be the next Kim Kardashian."