Wider Horizons Offers New Career Path for Irish Youth

When Maureen Gates received a phone call asking if she would like an intern from Ireland, she didn't waste a moment to jump at the opportunity. Gates works on the EagleEyes project at the Boston College Campus School and for the past decade she has helped develop technology for educational and communication purposes for students with severe physical disabilities. After visiting Cork City to implement the technology in a school there, Gates thought it would be beneficial to try to strengthen that relationship.

Into the picture came Catriona, of Donegal. "I was thrilled to work with Catriona as I've been working with people in Ireland to get this technology in schools, but the biggest downfall is that I need people to help train teachers and health care professions to get it started. I'm very confident in Catriona and if she wants to, she can help spread this resource across the country."

The Irish Immigration Center's Wider Horizons program brings unemployed young adults of Unionist and Nationalist traditions from both the South and the North to obtain work experience in the Boston area. The hope is that participants will not only improve their employment situation when they return home, but also foster mutual understanding about their diverse backgrounds.

Before she started the program, Catriona McEleney said she never expected to be looking for a career in health care. Back home in Donegal she worked in construction, but soon found herself unemployed. Through the Wider Horizons program, she spent the bulk of her time in Boston assisting children with very limited speech and physical abilities to communicate things like what they want for lunch or which computer game they would like to play. And all this is done through a computer. The technology is called CameraMouse and it allows the children to have full access to a computer by just moving their heads or eyes.

"I thought this system was incredible. I see these children's lives changed every day. I think that when I go home I will go to Health Systems and hospitals to promote the system for Maureen," McEleney said.

During the last week of McEleney's internship, her mentor, James McClean, visited Boston and the Boston College Campus School to check her progress in the Wider Horizons program. He is the Vice Chair for the People with Disabilities program in Ireland and works in health services in Donegal. He is also a mentor to three other Wider Horizons participants and tries to open doors for each of their employments.

"I've been discussing ways to promote the program and have Catriona train people who will be using them. We're looking at non-profits and health care facilities that can use it."

McClean said that they are being realistic in the search and are keeping in mind the economic climate in Ireland. However, in his own work he can see many applications for the program and hopes that more schools can get the technology. While anyone can learn how to use the computer programs, McEleney has been trained to assess the information to maximize the potential of each individual user.

While the Camera Mouse and EagleEyes technology is getting off the ground in many countries throughout the world, Gates sees great potential for the systems in Ireland. While she works with children born with disabilities, the technology has been used to help patients who have been paralyzed by accidents or sicknesses regain the ability to communicate.

"To have it impact your life, it needs to be a way of life. Catriona can help make it a way of life for people in Ireland. These programs can help disabled children parallel an able-bodied kid in the classroom. It can give a child dignity by being able to communicate to his family and peers. Everyone deserves that," said Gates.