West Limerick Independent Living (WLIL) is a non-profit organization that provides support services and advocacy for people with disabilities in Limerick, Ireland. The organisation is also known as Limerick CIL (Centre for Independent Living) and is one of a number of CIL’s across Ireland and worldwide. The history of the Independent Living movement grew out of the disability rights movement in the USA which began in the 1960s. WLIL was founded in 1996 and became a company limited by guarantee in 1997, many of the founding members were people with a disability who recognized the need for independent living services in the Limerick area.
The organisation grew out of a meeting which was held at the Brothers of Charity Buildings in Newcastle West on the 19th of October, 1996. The meeting was organised by Mr. Danny Ahern, who at that time was studying, Disability Studies at the Centre for Independent Living (CIL) Carmichael House, North Brunswick St, Dublin 7.
A large crowed attended the meeting, including representatives from organisations such as Irish Wheelchair Association, Spina Bifida Association and Cheshire Ireland etc. Also, in attendance Senator Mary Kelly Labour Party and Counsellor Michael Healy F.F Party. Guest speaker at the event was Mr. Dermott Hayes Manager, Disabled People of Clare (DPOC).
Dermott Hays spoke about the Independent Living movement, and he explained the philosophy behind the movement and outlined the process undertook by the DPOC in setting up independent living services in County Claire. Dermott played a video showing the history and the on-going developments of the Independent Living movement in Ireland.
An initial small committee was formed following that initial meeting, Michael O'Connor, Danny Ahern and Gerard O'Connor. In the following weeks and months this small committee grew into West Limerick Independent Living. The founding members included Mr. Tim Leahy, Mr. Michael O'Connor, Ms. Ann Shine, Mr. Danny Ahern (RIP 2020), Mr. Liam Geary, Ms. Irene Ahern and Mr. Gerard O'Connor.
In the early days guest speakers were invited to various presentations organised by the group, guest speakers (experienced in the Independent Living Movement) such as Mr. Joe T Rooney (RIP 2015) who worked with the Dublin Centre for Independent Living and he talked about different aspects of the movement. Dermott Hayes (DPOC) Disabled People of Clare spoke to the group on a number of occasions about Independent Living in Clare.
In the early years of WLIL, the organization focused on providing a small Personal Assistant service, this was funded by a FAS Community Employment scheme and provided part time employment, skill development and training for the twelve unemployed participants.
The job of a Personal Assistant (PA) is to assist a person with a physical disability, sometimes referred to as a leader in all aspects of daily living. This assistance is given at the direction and discretion of the leader such that they may engage in Independent Living, exerting self-determination and control over their own life. Assistance in daily living includes assisting with the personal and domestic care needs, social, educational and work activities of the leader. The role of the PA is tailored to the requirements of the individual leader and as such may vary from person to person.
Also in the early years of WLIL, the organization focused on providing peer support, information and advocacy for people with disabilities. This included helping individuals to navigate the complex social welfare system, providing information on accessible housing and transportation options, and advocating for disability rights.
As the organization grew, it began to provide more comprehensive services to its clients. This included expanding to include Limerick city and provide more personal assistant services, which enable individuals with disabilities to live independently by providing assistance with daily living tasks. WLIL also provides transport services, which offer passengers accessible transport in rural areas of county limerick, which provide social opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate in their community.
In addition to its direct service provision, WLIL has been active in advocating for disability rights in Ireland. In 2008 the organization formed the Limerick Advocacy Service which was a pilot project and later became part of the National Advocacy Service. WLIL has been involved in campaigns to improve access to transportation, housing, and employment opportunities for people with disabilities. WLIL has also been involved in lobbying for the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In 2022 after 25 years at the helm, Mr. Gerard O’Connor stepped down as Manager and Margaret O’Brine was appointed to the position of company manager shortly afterwards. Today, WLIL continues to provide vital services and support to individuals with disabilities across Limerick city and county Limerick. The organization is committed to empowering people with disabilities to live independently and to participate fully in their communities. Through its advocacy and service provision, WLIL is working to create a more inclusive and accessible society for people with disabilities in Ireland.