Independent Media Centre Ireland

Accessibility within Ireland in the 21st century

category national | health / disability issues | opinion/analysis author Wednesday March 29, 2006 05:00author by John Aherne

To be able, or not to be able, that is the question

Can anyone tell me as to why it is so difficult to have a basic need catered to regarding accessibility in
Ireland? In this day and age you would think firstly that pure and utter logic would prevail, but with my expieriences, and with the so called "Celtic Tiger" we are years away from being a society that open doors.
Sorry, regulars only !
Sorry, regulars only !

Yeah I know, yet another wheelchair story about how hard done by the disabled are. Yes but this time with a twist and the odd flavour of madness.

Let me start by giving a synopsis as to the type of person who actually took time out to clear his mind of the everyday hypocrisy a wheelchair user has to deal with (note that I stated user and not bound, I am quiet attached to my chair when getting around but I tend to leave it outside the covers when I sleep).

I don’t mind in the least as to how I would be classed, it differs from generation to generation, and to an elderly person I would be classed as an invalid, personally I think myself to be a valid person but hey, those were the times so you had to roll with it. Today, people get too hung up on what they perceive themselves to be and what category they file into. I suppose some people feel they need to belong to a group whether they are disabled or not, but who among us doesn’t suffer from one form of a disability, be it obvious like mine or the able bodied male in his pin stripped suit who has been rendered impotent due to the pressures of work. Personally, I’d prefer my chair.

So let’s get back on track, I’m a 34 year old male, paraplegic, December ’92 was an eye opener for me, I found out that I actually owned a spinal cord. It didn’t seem very important at the time but I like many others found out that when that cord gets damaged, it can change a life in an instant. My first experience with the consultant in the rehab, I even learned as to the different levels on the spinal column as he briefly muttered you’re a T8 and walked away. When you’re in a position like that, you find it to be “a hard tablet to swallow” but I considered myself as lucky, with the amount of damage that was done, I was very lucky to be breathing, although still at this time it was with the aid of a machine, but I knew it wouldn’t be long before I tasted the sweet burning of my lungs as I inhaled my first cigarette through my newly inserted trachea. Some people never learn.

I always had strong will power but never acted upon it, so I thought it’s now or never. I am no different to many spinal injuries who took the bull by the horns, so I dusted myself off and got on with life, no self pity, no chip on my shoulder, no “why me?”. The way I look it is “why not me” it can happen to anyone in a heart beat, and it doesn’t discriminate between rich or poor, male or female, young or old. You just got to play the cards you were dealt and make the most of it. I am also of the view which some people find harsh is that some people with disabilities really irritate me, now of course if I was able to walk on shoe leather, to make a statement like that I would be classed as some form of a bigot, I on the other hand have seen it first hand as to how much whining someone can do purely because they think society in general should stand up and take notice. I got news for ye lads; society doesn’t give two fiddlers, so get your balls back and move on.

I’ve heard it all over the years, even from the mouth of an MEP who while on his visit to the rehab said and I quote “want anything done lads regarding any disability issue, then don’t come to me” so, you see whether you are in a chair or not, it doesn’t give you an automatic right to be a self righteous pain in the rectum. Yes people with disabilities have rights, as does anyone else in this god forsaken country. But what is the point in having all these rights. It reminds me of when I was given my free travel pass, what a load of good that was, I wasn’t able to get on a bus, to try and gain access to a train was like Bertie Ahern trying to get a sentence out without sticking both feet in his mouth.

Access, now this is a word that nobody seems to understand. As a wheelchair user this is an issue that grounds a lot of ideas as to how you might want to spend an evening out. I, a non drinker don’t frequent public houses very often, for two reasons, the first is that there is rarely an occasion when I would be able to gain access to the toilets, and I think the barman would be offended when I go to the counter and ask for an empty pint glass and then give it back to him full. The second reason is that I’m a magnet for the typical male who got up that morning and decided “today I’m going to the pub and I’m not leaving there till I’ve drank my weight in beer”. As he finds it quiet difficult to focus, he staggers his way towards me and feels the need to spend some time with me and tell me how marvellous I am because I can push myself, I am also subjected to his three second memory span, and then of course he decides to test the theory “push it and it moves”. One of the funniest regarding access I have came across is a pub on the Dublin road which actually has a ramp leading up to an eight inch step, try figure that one out.

I like to try and go places that I don’t get too much bother. So I decided to try the cinema, notice I said “try”. The Savoy in Limerick city, no access, fifteen or so steps up to the first floor, the omniplex in Dooradoyle was a god send, even if it was quiet a distance away, but at least if I wanted to see a movie there was a good chance it was to be viewed with comfort as not all of it’s screens where designed with logic. And then there was all the great hype of the newly built Storm cinema, and I thought to myself at the time “this is 2005, surely this will be done right” Yeah and then all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put humpty dumpty together again. What a farce, I had plenty of access into the building and myself and my fiancé decided to watch the movie saw II, well that didn’t go to plan as the seating area for wheelchair users is approximately twelve to fifteen feet from a screen that must be one hundred feet wide by at least twenty feet high, now my question is, where on gods green earth is the logic in that? Not to mention the fact that being a six footer in a chair and towering over people beside me, I automatically become a nightmare for the person in the back row with his camcorder stuck between his legs. Have any of these developers got an IQ over seventy? Wouldn’t it be a logical step to take to have a wheelchair user taken onboard, purely as a consultant? People in suits designing buildings and giving their own interputation of access, isn’t the way to do it. Are they under the illusion that we are grateful for the day out and going to the cinema itself should be enough, sure didn’t he get out for the day anyway, isn’t he great, god bless him.

Now if you ever fancy a weekend away and decide to book a B&B, well enough said. Reason why is because there are no B&B’s that truly cater for people with disabilities, yes I know one has opened in Munster but that seems to have a seasonal opening and if someone doesn’t want to cater all year round then personally I’m not going to bother giving my custom, see I have just exercised one of my rights. So the majority of times I would use a Hotel, well easier said than done, some places when you ring up and book a room and state “I would like a room with wheelchair access and also for the en suite to be wheelchair friendly”. Done and dusted, hotel booked for the weekend, into the car and off we go. Arrive at the hotel, check in, toddle off up to the room, and I let curiosity get the better of me and take the leap forward to check out the en suite.

Then reality sets in, I’m away for the weekend, with absolutely no way of bathing properly, I’m facing a room that you could barely swing a cat in, a bath that’s not accessible and since I don’t bring a mirror with me, shaving becomes difficult as the mirror is a foot above my head. Come on people it’s not rocket science. One group of hotels I enjoy frequenting are the quality choice hotels, when you ask for a wheelchair accessible room, you get exactly what you need, but I do have one complaint regarding the en suite, although it is quiet spacious and actually even has a roll in shower which I was pleasantly surprised to see, there was one main ingredient missing “the shower chair”. How am I to shower? How am I to get from the bed to the shower? Use my wheelchair? It doesn’t take much for people who are in business which cater to the public to get advice in these matters, but we are the minority and that has been proven when you see the amount of rooms any given hotel out there has so called adapted for the disabled.

My least pleasant stay would have been in a hotel in Bandon, Co. Cork. That was a joke, wheelchair accessible room was upstairs, only thing was that the lift didn’t stop on that floor. So you had to go through the back yard, where all the crap was kept, then you had to wait to make sure a member of staff had the keys for the back door to gain access to the “wheelchair accessible” room, but that really didn’t matter as you could use the time well by warming up before you tackled the ramp leading up to the back door, and as you can see there is no point in going into more detail as to what this hotel catered for, but I did have the pleasure in filling out a comment card I was so graciously handed upon leaving, Personally I think there just isn’t enough room on them cards to really elaborate your true feelings.

Yes I know “able bodied have feelings too”. But the sooner this country gets with the times the better it will be for all of us.

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