No Limbs, No Limits RTE1 Thursday 10.15
A little girl, about two or three, bounces along on the kitchen table with the help of her mother, singing “If you’re happy and you know it”. Each time it comes to the bit where if you’re happy you must clap your hands she encourages her mother to do so, on her behalf, because this little girl doesn’t have hands, or feet, arms or legs. She’s Joanne O’Riardon.
O’Riardon was born in 1996 without limbs, a condition known as Tetra-Amelia Syndrome which affects only eight other people in the world. It’s impossible to imagine; a thought expressed by her father when first faced with the news. An interview conducted with Joanne’s parents in the film documentary No Limbs, No Limits asks them to recall their reaction when they were first told of their as yet unborn daughter’s condition, and the disbelief is palpable in her mother’s voice even seventeen years on.
Now Joanne is eighteen and to the contrary of doctors’ initial belief that she would live a very restricted life, if she would live at all, has defied them all by having many more accomplishments under her belt than most people her age. Home footage shows her as a child, as hyper and curious as any other, in high spirits as she has fun with her family on days out and interacts with her friends at school.
She has called out Enda Kenny for cutting disability allowance when he was caught on camera promising her he would not, she has appeared on The Late Late Show won Young Person of the Year. Most significantly she was asked to speak at the UN in New York when she was just sixteen, on how technology is the limb she never had and how developments in it are so important to people who rely so heavily on it as she does.
It’s fascinating seeing how she gets by. She has texting down to a fine art, using her top lip dexterously, brushes her teeth with little struggle using an electric toothbrush, uses an iPad as a tool for all her reading and studying needs.
In her rousing, intelligent and witty speech she speaks of her family and their support. Judging by the home footage it would appear that it’s a very close knit, loving unit, and significantly one that, though being carers for Joanne and attending to her various needs doesn’t take any prisoners, allows her as much independence as can be afforded her.
Her brother, in fact, is the maker of the film, directing, writing and producing, and this relationship creates a wonderfully intimate portrait of an extraordinary young woman. Bright and alert, full of energy, she’s a powerhouse, and to reluctantly but truthfully use and over-used trope, truly inspirational. No limbs, no limits is her motto and an ideology she sticks to. At 18 she has just started and their really is no limit as to where life will take her next.
– Aoife B. Burke
First Published in The Tuam Herald on 26.07.14