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The O2 Ability Awards

Monday, 10 May 2010

Caroline Casey will be presenting the 4th 02 Ability Awards with Ryan Tubridy on the 12th May. She has just launched the first international ability awards in Spain, based on the model that was founded by her organization Kanchi, in 2005. Caroline has also recently received a Guinness Fund award for social entrepreneurs.

Caroline Casey - Founder of Kanchi & Ability Awards

Since 2005, over 130 businesses and organisations in Ireland including Superquinn, McDonald's Restaurants of Ireland, Bank of Ireland, Kerry County Council, Aura Sport & Leisure, AIB Group, Eircom and Microsoft have been selected as O2 Ability Award organisations. Managed by disability organisation Kanchi, the O2 Ability Awards are the first business awards in Ireland for best practice of the inclusion of people with disabilities, both as employees and as customers. This year's O2 Ability Awards will take place in Dublin on 12 May.

About the O2 Ability Awards

The O2 Ability Awards, created and managed by Kanchi, are the first business awards in Ireland for Best Practice of the inclusion of people with disabilities, both as employees and as customers. Examining all aspects of employment and customer service, the O2 Ability Awards recognise progressive attitudes in organisations that see disability and diversity as a corporate asset and key to success.
The O2 Ability Awards Programme celebrates organisations and business leaders that think and act differently about people with disabilities; seeing an employee's strengths and abilities over any disability and recognising the economic potential of making their products and services available to all customers. The O2 Ability Awards programme is supported by Telefónica O2 Ireland, FÁS, The Irish Times, Newstalk 106-108fm, RTÉ and PricewaterhouseCoopers. In April 2010, the Ability Awards will be launched in Spain as the Telefónica Ability Awards, the first country outside of Ireland licenced to run the awards programme based on the Ability Awards model created in Ireland. Visit the website:

About Kanchi

Kanchi's story began when its founder, Caroline Casey, a visually impaired social entrepreneur, trekked 1000km across India on an elephant called Kanchi. The aim of the journey was to positively change the way people think about disability, to motivate people to see the value and potential of difference. Kanchi, named after Caroline's elephant, believes that disability is society's elephant in the room - the thing we don't want to talk about due to misunderstanding and fear of getting it wrong. Kanchi works to change that. It works to change the way we see and understand disability so that the 650 million people in the world with a disability are seen for their ability and value in society. Visit the website:

Caroline Casey

Caroline credits her parents for her positive attitude towards her disability. Caroline was sent to school without knowing that she had an eye condition called ocular albinism, that leads to severe impairment. They thought at the time, we'll send her and see how she gets on, and what she can do when she doesn't know about it.
She grew up thinking there wasn't much wrong with her eyes, especially as her sisters eyesight was much worse. It wasn't until she was 17 and wanted to drive that she realized there was something really wrong with her eyes.
Through her college years she told as little people as possible about her disability while she studied archaeology, but when she went to find work, she was gently told that it wasn't going to happen. She then tried horticulture, and set up a landscaping business, which turned out to be unsuitable for someone with her condition also. Finally she did a business degree and was employed, at this stage legally blind, as a consultant. It wasn't until her eyesight deteriorated even more that her doctor told her that this job wasn't suitable for her either. It was then that she broke down and while running that night thought of how much she loved to travel, and had read a book about a man, Mark Shand, who travelled across India on an elephant.

It was then she started thinking about why she needed to hide or deny her disability even to herself, and that 80% of the country's disabled people were unemployed. While fundraising to do her trek for the National Council of the Blind, she appeared on the Late Late show with Mark Shand. It was through this exposure that Dermot Desmond got in touch with her, and told her that he'd help her with anything she needed to do. When she asked him why corporate businesses shy away from disability, he responded by gathering 16 of the most influential business people in the world around a table so that she could ask them why it is not seen as being valuable to businesses. Through this they created a model for businesses, and she left the meeting with contacts for some of the most influential CEO's in the country.

How many companies have been shortlisted?
There are 38 shortlisted from the 100 that apply.

How do companies apply?

There is a process, and its not easy for companies, they really have to work hard and go through a lot of application, self assessments, external assessments and judging before they are shortlisted, so it really says a lot for the companies that have been included in the last list before the winners are announced, and by this stage they would need to have a level of excellence achieved for accessibility, whether it is accessibility for customers or recruitment.

Are companies reluctant to get involved?

It wasn't easy getting this up and running, but there are a lot of benefits that companies have realized that there are good reasons to enter the competition.

1. PR - if the company wins it massively builds up their profile and reputation
2. Free Consultancy - They find out free of charge how to make their company accessible to customers who have a disability. Companies in these hard times have realized that they may have been alienating the disabled market, and now that they are looking at their customers more closely, realize there is a market to tap into.
3. Chance to network with other business individuals

How has it changed over the past few years?

Surprisingly, since we did the last awards a few years ago (before the recession), there was a 70% increase in the number of applicants. Media are more interested, and its moved from a charity story to a human interest story about companies who have won it. Also CEO's are willing to say the word 'disability', which means there is a greater acknowledgment and less stigma.

You are taking it international?

Yes we have launched the ability awards in Spain which is a massive achievement. There is no other similar initiative anywhere in the world.

You just won an Arthur Guinness Award?

We were delighted to win it and it's such a great award. I say we because I may collect it, but I have an amazing team around me and it's as much theirs as mine. Each winner gets €100,000 to put towards a project, and my plan is to expand the ability awards to make the ability awards it for every company in Ireland, instead of just 100.

A Decade of Challenging Perceptions About Disability

Visually impaired, social entrepreneur, Caroline Casey treks 1,000 kilometres across India training as an elephant handler on an elephant called Kanchi to change perceptions about disability. She raises €250,000 for the National Council for the Blind and Sight Savers International. The trek is chronicled in a National Geographic documentary.

A schools campaign is launched. Caroline visits 47 schools around Ireland to promote the ability of people with disabilities and to chronicle her elephant trek.

Caroline is presented with RADAR (Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation) UK's People of the Year Award.

The first Ability Conference Summit among Irish CEOs and HR directors is held in Dublin to promote the business case for employing people with disabilities.

Around the World in Eighty Ways - an international campaign to promote the ability of people with disabilities and raising €1 million for charities around the globe.

Caroline Casey is named Junior Chamber International's "Ten Outstanding Young People of the World".

The Ability Conference 2003 is held comprising a series of 7 employer conferences commissioned by the Irish Government to promote the disability business case.

The O2 Ability Awards are created to recognise organisations that champion the ability and value of employees and customers with a disability.

The first O2 Ability Awards is held in Dublin. Fifty organisations are recognised for their efforts in promoting inclusion of people with disabilities as employees and customers. Caroline co-hosts the broadcast of the awards programme on national television.

Caroline undertakes Challenge 32 - running one mile in every county in Ireland with 48 hours.

The second O2 Ability Awards is held in Dublin, a further 30 organisations are accredited as being Ability Companies. Caroline joins television host, Pat Kenny to present the televised awards show.

Caroline Casey is appointed a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, is awarded an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland and becomes the first Ashoka fellow for social entrepreneurship from Ireland and the UK.

The third O2 Ability Awards is held, recognising in total 100 organisations as Ability Companies. The awards show is broadcast on national television with Caroline joining Ryan Tubridy as host.

Caroline Casey receives the Eisenhower Fellowship.

Kanchi is the new name for The Aisling Foundation.
The Business of Ability book is launched.
Caroline is appointed to the World Economic Forum's global agenda council on diversity.

Kanchi brings the disability workshop 'Dialogue in the Dark' to Ireland for the first time.

The Kanchi Sounding Board is created with the support of McDonald's Restaurants of Ireland to create and advise on disability strategy

Caroline Casey is selected for the Ashoka Globalizer Panel.

The Telefónica Ability Awards are launched in Spain, the first country outside of Ireland licenced to run the awards programme based on the Ability Awards model created in Ireland.

The fourth O2 Ability Awards is to be held in Dublin on the 12th May.