James Cawley Jr. was born with a physical disability called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita and was told he would never use a pen, let alone get the job he holds today.
James is a secondary school teacher at Maynooth Education campus incorporating Maynooth Community College and Maynooth Post Primary.
James is also Chairperson of the Arthrogryposis Association of Ireland and has met with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister of State for Disability Issues, Finian McGrath about problems affecting those with disabilities, including transport services.
My alarm goes off…
My accessible taxi TC Cabs arrives at 6.30am.
I meet my personal assistant Peter at the train station at 6.45am. We discuss the plan of attack for the day!
I am responsible for…
Delivering curriculum content as well as motivating and inspiring students. I am the youngest of 9 in a busy household where my disability was normalised. I have been helped by my family and friends to live my life to the fullest. As cliché as it sounds, I wanted to give something back, which is why I entered the teaching profession.
My typical day…
Organisation is key!
To ensure I can have a good day and do what I need to do, I have to be strategic in my daily planning. When I meet my PA we go through my daily plan so we both understand my commitments and goals for the day ahead. My PA is an extension of my limbs. He provides me with physical and emotional support 11 hours a day. He facilitates my independent living. We have an open, honest relationship which is built on trust.
To ensure each day runs smoothly, it is important that I build positive relationships with people and organisations that can support this. For example, I have a fantastic relationship with the team at Irish Rail both at Longford and Maynooth who ensure my ramp is waiting for my commute and they make sure I am looked after.
For me, it is extremely important that my classroom is accessible for my wheelchair. In my current school, I have my own classroom. I have set up the chairs and tables in an L-shape to facilitate my teaching methodologies. This also means that I can roll around the room easily and support students. I am also able to access the board freely as my wheelchair can rise up to 5 feet with my chair riser. This allows me to write on a board, use an ATM and sit at the bar when I’m having a pint! This feature on my wheelchair makes a huge difference to my quality of life – personally and professionally. I have had it two years now after fundraising for it.
The best part of my job…
When I get to positively influence, motivate students as well as be a role model for them. I enjoy challenging students and supporting them from underachievement to realising their potential. I hope that I demonstrate to them core values of respect and dignity.
The most challenging part of my job…
Like most teachers, I find it difficult to emotionally switch-off and can often feel guilty for not doing more.
But it is important that I can go home and be a brother, son, boyfriend and deal with work the next day.
I am inspired by…
A lady no longer with us. She was a principal, a leader, a role model and a friend – Elizabeth Brady. She was a huge influence in my life and advocated for me to go into mainstream education where I had my SNA Breege for 13 years. Breege encouraged me to achieve my own potential.
When I said to Mrs Brady “I can’t do that”, she said “You can”.
She encouraged me to participate in activities like the Community Games, where I competed on my brothers back!
She died a number of years ago and, unfortunately, never got to see me teach.
I get home and I emotionally offload by going for a “jog” or “stROLL” as I like to call it. I put my headphones in, listen to some tunes and do a 5km circuit. I swim three times a week. I often have physio appointments too. I juggled my work-life balance with medical appointments.
After I finish any corrections I need to do I will focus on my advocacy work. I am currently working with someone who is disabled after a car accident and needs emotional support.
The motto by which I live my life……
If you are not happy, you’re at nothing…
It’s not impossible – I’m possible!