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Getting around

30 November, 1999

Clare Louise Creedon works in the Forum for People with Disabilities. Here she alerts us to what it is like for people with disabilities to cope in a world that ignores them.

I have a disability called Friedreich’s ataxia, which is a genetic condition inherited from both parents. It affects my balance and co-ordination. It usually starts between the ages of six and sixteen. I live in Shankill, Co. Dublin, and I use an electric wheelchair.

As part of a community employment scheme, I work in the Forum for People with Disabilities, close to Mountjoy Square in Dublin. I find it much better being in an electric wheelchair, instead of a manual one. When you are in a manual wheelchair, your arms get sore, your cuffs get dirty and, because you are so intent on pushing the chair and making sure not to bump into anyone else, you don’t get to see all around you. If I didn’t have the power wheelchair, I could not do half the things I do. It has given me a new lease of life.
Getting to work
On a typical day, I get up at half-past six in the morning, and get the number 84 bus opposite Shankill Church between eight o’clock and a quarter to nine. I must get the 84, as it is the handiest, but only one comes per hour. On my way up to the bus, just past my estate, the path is narrow and slants out towards the road. I have come off the path a number of times. I have told the authorities about it on several occasions, but to no avail.

The 84 bus leaves me to Foxrock, where I wait for the number 46A to Mountjoy Square. A lot of the time, when I am waiting at Foxrock Church, there are plenty of buses passing by, but I have to wait patiently until a low-floor bus comes. There is another bus which goes from Shankill to Mountjoy Square, the 145, but it is never wheelchair accessible. Often, when an accessible one comes, the ramp doesn’t work.

When I am going from the bus in Mountjoy Square to the Forum, I have a bit of trouble with the paths, as they are all cracked, and I get bumped around in my wheelchair. Having said that, it’s not as bad as it was last year, when I had to ask the Corporation to dip a part of the path better. There was a little step, and I’d get a huge bump in the electric wheelchair. Of course, it would have been worse in a manual chair. There are lots of paths that are cracked or have really high kerbs, which make them impossible for wheelchair users, or for visually impaired people, to negotiate. It takes me at least an hour-and-a-half to get to work.

Homeward journey
Going home, I have more difficulties. I don’t need the 46A going home, so I go down to Burgh Quay to get the number 84 bus. On my way, I encounter a lot of paths that are not dipped and others that have cracks in them. At one point, I have to go on to the road, as there is no path at all on one side, and the path on the other side is too high for the wheelchair to mount. I encounter similar problems approaching O’Connell Bridge.
By contrast, I go to a course each Wednesday in the National College of Ireland, near the Irish Financial Services Centre on Burgh Quay. I only need to get one bus, the 84 or the 45: they both stop on Burgh Quay, so it’s very handy. There seem to be fewer faults with the paths in that area than on the way to and from work.

On the DART
Once I decided to make the journey from Shankill to Dun Laoghaire with a friend on the DART. At Shankill, I was promised that arrangements would be made for a ramp to be ready in Dun Laoghaire. Not for the first time, there was no ramp there when I arrived. My friend saw a ramp standing against the wall in the station, and I tried to keep the door of the train open while she went to get it. Despite my efforts, the doors closed, and the train pulled away, leaving me stuck on the train.

I got into a panic at that stage, but eventually, two stops later, with the help of several other passengers, I got the attention of the driver. He said that I would have to stay on the DART until Sandymount, because at none of the other stations would I be able to cross to the other side to get a DART back to Dun Laoghaire. Surely, in this day and age, all DART stations should be wheelchair accessible?

When I finally got to Dun Laoghaire, the man in charge said that nobody had rung him from Shankill. This is not uncommon, in my experience, so you can understand why I am getting fed up with the whole situation.

I have suggested on several occasions to the authorities that at least one carriage on each DART train should be made wheelchair accessible. This could be done by fitting a ramp that would come out from under the train to meet the platform, thereby bridging the awful gap. As with accessible buses, there could be a bell for the passenger to ring, to alert the driver that the ramp was required at the next stop.
There are several other ways by which DART trains could be made accessible to wheelchair users. Any such system would also be helpful for people with buggies, or those who have walking difficulties, or people who suffer from a visual impairment. A place that is accessible for a wheelchair user is accessible for everybody.

I hope something can be done to help wheelchair users, because this is a serious problem. The gap is so wide between the DART and the platform that it is impossible to cross without a ramp. Why not talk to people in wheelchairs who use the service regularly? We are the best people to say how things can be made more accessible for all.

It is surely not fair that, while able-bodied people can do so many things easily and without thinking, we have to think hard about almost everything we do. It puts you off trying to be independent. If what happens to people in wheelchairs happened to able-bodied people, there would be uproar, so why is there one rule for us and another for them?

The whole situation is outrageous. What are people with disabilities expected to do? How are we meant to get to and from work if there are obstacles in our way at every turn? Isn’t our disability enough of a draw-back, without adding to our problems? I rest my case.

This article first appeared in The Messenger (August 2005), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.