Wheelchair accessibility doesn’t really exist in Ireland.
Many restaurants, hotels, and even footpaths in this country are not suitable for wheelchair users, including my own father, at all.
The term ‘inequality’ is brandished about a lot these days in relation to gender and sexuality. But what about disability?
My dad cannot access his local shop, church, or doctor unless he brings his wheelchair out onto the main road alongside heavy traffic. Yes, there are footpaths in the area – but he cannot use them because a step is required to get on and off them.
The council, when constructing these footpaths around the Dublin 15 area, seemed to forget that wheelchair users cannot simply ‘step up’ onto a raised path.
A gentle slope of concrete is all that’s needed to make dad’s journey to Centra a safe one.
Disabled people should not be made feel different or unwelcome, particularly in their own community – but wheelchair inaccessibility does just that.
Hotels and restaurants, particularly fancy-pants modern ones, tend to have rather low tables that people in wheelchairs cannot make use of.
Wheelchairs are taller than standard chairs. So while friends and family pull their seats close to the table so as not to spill their food or drinks, the wheelchair user must sit further back, because their legs come up too high to pull in any closer.
Sometimes it’s a case that the legs of the table are too close together, and not wide enough to allow the wheelchair in. Either way, the person with the disability is singled out as being different – as if life wasn’t already hard enough.
What’s worse is when the toilet facilities are either up or down a flight of stairs.
Yes, owners are entitled to design their establishments in any way that they want, but a bit of consideration for people with disabilities would go a long way.
Cinemas also have limited wheelchair accessibility.
Sure, my dad could go to see a movie in Odeon, but only if he’s prepared to sit right at the front of the theatre and strain his neck looking up to the screen.
Why can’t ramps be made available within the theatre so that cinema-goers who are confined to a wheelchair can sit further back alongside everyone else?
It’s not good enough for them to be cordoned off to a small seating area directly in front of the screen. I would like to call on all cinema owners to consider the implementation of ramps in the future.
This isn’t solely an Irish problem. Wheelchair inaccessibility is a global issue – even in well-established cities like New York. When I was there in 2014, I noticed that a large percentage of subway stations had no wheelchair access at all. I don’t know how transport officials in New York expect people in wheelchairs to get from A to B, but the subway certainly isn’t an option.
Luckily, here in Dublin at least, public transport is becoming more accessible with kneeling buses that have extendable wheelchair ramps. This gives people like my dad an opportunity to be independent and go out-and-about around the city like everyone else.
I don’t know whether it’s arrogance or ignorance that has led to a lack of wheelchair accessibility in Ireland. Is it that people don’t care about the issue as long as it doesn’t affect them? Or is it that they simply don’t realise it’s an issue at all?
This is a problem that can be easily solved if the right people were given a voice. Able-bodied business people should not be deciding if a place is ‘wheelchair friendly’. Only wheelchair users can make that decision.
I am calling on my local council to invest in wheelchair accessibility, and to engage with people who use wheelchairs on a daily basis to explain their specific needs. Similarly, I would like to ask business owners throughout the country to consider wheelchair accessibility when designing the layout of their premises and the furniture to go into the premises.
Lastly, I am pleading with anyone who reads this to do the same. People with disabilities have enough troubles in their lives without being physically shut-off from their own community. We need to be more inclusive as a society and make the people around us feel accepted and welcome, regardless of physical, mental, gender or sexual differences.
We are all equal, and now is the time to show it.
Please check out the Irish Wheelchair Association website for advice on how to make life easier and more inclusive for wheelchair users.