Hello, My name is Kells, I’m about to turn 20 but as a non-verbal quadriplegic, my life really began when I was 6, joined the Barnardo’s community and was introduced to assistive technology. 

My eye gaze activated computer enables me to communicate, have an opinion and have my say on issues of the day – issues that impact upon my life. 

Various groups at Barnardo’s have built up my confidence and taught me to be assertive.

It was at Barnardo’s that I first felt that someone wanted to hear my views, to listen to them and to take them on board.

For the first time I could see a future for myself. In Barnardo’s I feel very much part of a team moving forward together. Such has been my progress over the years, that last year, along with my friend, we gave a presentation using our assistive technology to some 300 delegates at the Barnardo's Northern Ireland AGM. 

Now I have an ambition to be a Barnardo’s ambassador as I think it's so important to speak up for others who don’t have the opportunity to speak up at all.

It’s important to be both heard and to listen to other people who - for whatever reason - are vulnerable. I have the t-shirt so I should wear it. 

With the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown most of the country suddenly experienced what life has been like for me. 

No control over the situation, fear for the future, having to think about the little things in life such as getting food, getting out and communicating with friends and family.

I didn’t feel isolated, more like abandoned, as service provision closed down, day centres closed down and care assistants ceased coming to the house. It was a dark place to be, as lockdown made us realise how quickly we became forgotten in society. 

Then in the midst of the darkness the phone rang. My support worker from Barnardo’s wanted to set up a keeping in touch group online. I could have snapped her hand off but I just said yes as I know the difficulty of living without working limbs.

Once again Barnardo’s had turned the light at the end of my tunnel on again.

I felt like a winning contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire with technology my lifeline, and my three Barnardo’s friends, my ‘phone a friend’ group. Our friendship, built through Barnardo’s, has got stronger during this pandemic. In the real world, everything comes at a cost. I would encourage those reading this report, who may be in positions of power or influence, to use that position to ensure the vital work of Barnardo’s is enabled to continue to benefit those less fortunate in society. Instead of a stairway to heaven, maybe consider a ramp, to give everyone access to equality of opportunity, the same opportunity that Barnardo’s has given to me.

Kells is a young person who for a number of years was supported by Barnardo’s Disabled Children & Young People’s Participation Project service in Armagh. Each year, twelve young people with a range of disabilities aged 14 to 19 are trained in peer mentoring. They then support each other in pairs for up to 12 months. By being paired with other young people who are experiencing similar issues, the group are able to support one another and improve their wellbeing. Kells has also been involved with the 6th Sense Group from when it started to the present day.