What do you need to know? Our Resources cover everything from managing a spinal cord injury to travel, entitlements and holidays. If you do not find the answer to your query here contact SII on or phone 01-2355317

Spinal Cord Injury

Volunteering with SII – David Sparrow’s story

Witnessing a man sustain a spinal cord injury 16 years ago led David Sparrow to become a volunteer with SII


“I remember it well. It was in 2002 and I was the coach of a local rugby team. I was the coach of the second team and we’d just finished playing our match and we were standing on the sidelines watching the first team play. Ciaran, the guy who was injured, was a member of the first team and the whole thing happened right in front of us.

“Ciaran was going for the ball and he slid down, fell on the ball and they all piled on top of him. We knew straight away something bad had happened and the match was stopped immediately.

“He was taken to Tullamore and then up to the Mater Hospital. He ended up in the Mater Hospital for a few months as he had to have an operation, and he was then transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Rochestown for further physiotherapy rehab.”

David recalls the effect of seeing Ciaran suffering his spinal cord injury and how it changed things for him and for some of the people on the rugby team.

“It did effect everybody and it affected me. It especially effected a lot of people in the club. A lot of the players gave up actually after that, they said they didn’t want to run the risk of it happening to them. So, it did change things for people.”

Over the years, David said he thought about what happened to Ciaran and he explains that he always wanted to help in some way.

“I thought, if there’s anyway that I can give back from that point of view, it would be great.”

When David retired six years ago, he was looking for an organisation he could volunteer with and fate stepped in.

“After I’d retired and settled down into my new routine, I was thinking about what I could do during the day time to help out. My wife saw an ad in the local paper which said that Spinal Injuries Ireland were looking for volunteer drivers to drive clients and service users to activities and appointments and I thought that sounded really interesting. I thought it would be a great way to give back especially since a spinal cord injury had visited my life in the past.”

As a volunteer bus driver for SII, David collects patients at the NRH and brings them to different places such as the clients home, rib trips with SII, and social trips out to give patients a break from the hospital environment. David also picks SII clients up from their homes or nursing homes and brings them to hospital appointments, Aviva sports matches, and other SII outings.

As a SII bus driver, David supports our service users by offering a good listening ear, a chat, and fun day out as he always likes to bring a smile to everyone’s face.

“I really enjoy it, I feel like I’m giving back something. It’s nice to be able to give what you can to relieve the problems and the anxieties of the people affected by a spinal cord injury. And I do love it, I love getting on with all the SII clients and we have a laugh from start to finish. I always keep it very light hearted from that point of view. It’s a pleasure to drive the bus for SII.”

David volunteers for SII regularly and he explains he always tries to be available when he’s needed.

“I volunteer when I’m needed. It can be busy at times or it can be quiet at times and it does depend on whether I’m available to do it. I found that since I’ve been retired I’m available a lot more, which is handy because some of the other drivers might be working during the week. Whenever I am available I’ll say yes and I will always do it as often as I can.

“I love working with the staff and volunteers at SII. They do a great job and it’s always a pleasure to get to know the SII clients.”


Ciaran McCarthy

Ciaran McCarthy, from Dublin, went on to write a book about his experience of living with a spinal cord injury called ‘I Will Walk Alone’. It is available to buy on Amazon and chronicles his life after he sustained his SCI.


Volunteering with SII

If you would like to volunteer with SII, contact or call 01 6532180. We’d love to hear from you.


A Spinal Cord Injury Explained

One of our Community Team, Deirdre Griffin has developed this short, informative video to explain the impact of a complete and incomplete spinal cord injury.

Courses in my local area

If you’re interested in returning to education, retraining for a new career or participating in a short course, your SII Support Worker can work with you to achieve these as part of the Future Me Programme.

Find your Course – Qualifax

Qualifax is the national ‘one stop shop’ for Ireland’s national learners and lists the majority of further and higher education and training courses in Ireland. This can be accessed through

Family Resource Centre

A number of Family Resource Centres in local areas provide short courses either free of charge or at a highly subsidised rate. These can be a very good option as a first step towards employment. A list of Family Resource Centres can be found here

Local Development Company or LEADER Partnership

Alternatively, your Local Development Company or LEADER Partnership may be funded to deliver projects or courses aimed at supporting people with disabilities or short or long term unemployed back into the work place. A list of Local Development Companies can be found here

Return to education and financial support

If you are returning to third level education, different fees and supports apply depending on your age and circumstances. Further information can be found on the Citizens Information Website here

You may also be entitled to tax relief on the cost of third level tuition fees. More information about this can be found at Some distance learning courses are also eligible for this tax relief.


If you are over 21 and have been receiving a social welfare payment for more than 6 months you may be eligible for the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS). VTOS is operated through local Education and Training Boards and provides a range of courses from basic education and training to advanced vocational courses. The courses are full time (30 hours per week) and can last up to 2 years. VTOS courses are listed on

VTOS and your benefits

While on VTOS, you will continue to receive your disability payment. You can also keep any secondary benefits such as your medical card. Depending on your individual circumstances, you may also be eligible for other benefits such as a meal allowance, travel allowance or free childcare place.

The social welfare payments which contribute to eligibility for VTOS are:

  • Jobseekers benefit / allowance
  • One parent family payment
  • Disability allowance
  • Illness Benefit
  • Invalidity Pension
  • Blind Pension
  • Widow / Widowers or Surviving Civil Partner’s Contributory Pension.

More information about VTOS can be found on the Citizens Information Website here

A list of Frequently Asked Questions about VTOS can be found here

Other Short Course Grants

Your Local Development Company or LEADER Partnership may have local grants available to you. You can find your nearest Local Development company here

Employment after Spinal Cord Injury

Returning to employment can be a positive experience enhancing physical health, earning potential, social interactions and confidence. Whether you choose to return to your previous job, follow a new career path, set up your own business, enter into voluntary work or return to education, SII can support you to make your choice a reality.

Exploring employment options while still at the NRH

You can start exploring your options during your rehabilitation, through our ‘Future Me’ Programme. Find out more here.

My benefits and employment

If you are currently receiving social welfare benefits and wish to take up employment, you should check how this will affect you. You can check at your local Department of Social Protection (DSP) Office or your local Citizens Information Bureau.

In general, the following rules apply:

  • Invalidity Pension and Illness Benefit: If you are receiving one of these benefits you cannot undertake paid work. You can undertake voluntary unpaid work. If you wish to work as a volunteer, you must get written permission from the DSP before you start. If you are receiving Invalidity Pension you cannot do more than 19.5 hours per week of voluntary work. If you are receiving Illness Benefit there is no limit on the amount of hours of voluntary work you can do per week.

If you wish to undertake paid work you must transfer to the Partial Capacity Scheme.

  • Disability Allowance: If you are receiving this allowance you may be allowed to undertake work or training that is considered rehabilitative or therapeutic. If you wish to do this you must get written permission from the DSP. You must also get written permission from the DSP if you wish to undertake voluntary unpaid work.
  • Partial Capacity Benefit: If you are in receipt of Illness Benefit or Invalidity Pension you may qualify for Partial Capacity Benefit. Disability Allowance is not a qualifying allowance for Partial Capacity Benefit.

Partial Capacity Benefit is a social welfare scheme that allows you to return to work or self-employment (if you have reduced capacity to work) and continue to receive your Department of Social Protection payment.

To qualify for Partial Capacity Benefit your restriction or capacity for work will be assessed as mild, moderate, severe or profound. If you are assessed as mild you will not qualify and your continued eligibility for Invalidity Pension and Illness Benefit will be reviewed. It is important to discuss the process with your GP and consider all possible outcomes before applying for this benefit.

If you transfer to the Partial Capacity Scheme you can retain some secondary allowances (such as Free Travel, Households Benefits Package) but will lose others (such as Fuel Allowance). More information can be found on the Citizens Information website here

Supports for employers and employees

There are different supports for people with disabilities to assist with finding and keeping employment. Grants that may be helpful to support you and your employer to return to work or begin a new job include:

  • Grants for employers to retain employees with disabilities
  • Disability Awareness Training Grants
  • Grants for adapting or equipping the workplace for staff with disabilities
  • Wage Subsidy Scheme

Information about these grants and others are listed on the Citizens Information Website here

Employer Disability Information Service

The purpose of the Employer Disability Information service is to provide employers with an expert peer source of advice and information on employing staff with disabilities, with a view to enhancing the confidence and competence of individual employers to employ, manage and retain staff with disabilities.

Can I keep my medical card?

One of the most common concerns about returning to work is whether or not it is possible to keep your medical card.

If you are returning to full or part time work you can keep your medical card for 3 years provided that you have been getting one of the following allowances for 12 months or more:

  • Jobseekers Allowance
  • Jobseekers Benefit
  • One Parent Family Payment
  • Illness Benefit
  • Invalidity Pension
  • Disability Allowance
  • Blind Pension
  • Or you have been on an employment incentive scheme or educational opportunity scheme.

More information can be found on the Citizens Information Website here


If you’re interested in setting up your own business, there are a number of supports available to you.

SII Community Outreach Officer

Your SII Community Outreach Officer can assist you in accessing your local supports in setting up a business.

Local County Enterprise Office

You can contact your local County Enterprise Office who will provide information about grants, subsidised training courses and mentoring. You can find your nearest Local Enterprise Office here

Local Development Company

Your Local Development Company or LEADER Partnership may also have a ‘Start Your Own Business’ Course or local grants available to you. You can find your nearest Local Development company here

Back to Work Enterprise Allowance

If you would like to set up your own business you may be eligible for the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance. If you are eligible, you can keep a percentage of your social welfare payment for up to 2 years. You are likely to be eligible for this is if you have been in receipt of one of the following payments for 12 months:

  • Jobseekers Allowance
  • Jobseekers Benefit
  • One Parent Family Payment
  • Blind Pension
  • Disability Allowance
  • Carers Allowance
  • Farm Assist
  • Invalidity Pension
  • Incapacity Supplement
  • Widow / Widowers or Surviving Civil Partner’s Pension
  • Or Illness Benefit for more than 3 years

You can keep extra benefits such as Fuel Allowance, Medical Card and Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance whilst in receipt of BTWEA.

Enterprise Support Grant (ESG)

If you are approved for the BTWEA you may also be eligible for the Enterprise Support Grant (ESG) which can pay a total of €2500 in a 24 month period. There are strict application procedures associated with this grant and you must be able to make a matching contribution of 20% of the grant.

More information about the BTWEA and the ESG is available on the Citizens Information Website here

Spinal Injuries Ireland,
Unit G3,
Pottery Business Centre,
Pottery Road,
Dun Laoghaire,
Co. Dublin,

Tel: +353-1-6532180