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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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Is your town or city accessible to all? You might be surprised…

A new blog looks at what is accessible for wheelchair users and people with restricted mobility.

A LINE OF steps into your favourite pub; a smooth marble floor in a restaurant; toilet cubicles that have to be squeezed into.

These are things that many people don’t even register when they are out for the night, but for others they are the reason why they can’t enter certain buildings.

Legless in Dublin

As a wheelchair user and former user of crutches, freelance journalist Louise Bruton knows what to look for when it comes to accessibility. With a lack of resources online, she decided to set up a new blog called Legless in Dublin, which gives an insight into exactly where is accessible in the capital.

On the blog, when she assesses a venue or location she does so with specific criteria in mind: seating, doors, ground, stairs, bathrooms, spaciousness, helpfulness of staff, and parking.

“Steps and bathroom, they’re the first two things you think of but then people might not realise that the space between tables and [the] kind of surface is very important,” she said.

The things that other people might not notice – steps into doorways, accessible bathrooms used as storerooms, toilets located in awkward locations – are what Bruton keeps an eye out for. The blog is aimed at people of all abilities, as Bruton recognises that people’s needs vary.

Her reviews so far have included venues, pubs, parks, cinemas, and restaurants, and while to date it has been Dublin-based, she is aiming to include more of the country in her write-ups.

Positive attitude

Bruton cautions that she is “not out to catch out anyone”, and the blog is not about negativity.

I think it’s probably more important to highlight the positive things than a review of a place you can’t go to.

“I find that when you notice the staff were very helpful that will counteract a lot of the physical bad sides they have, like a step or two,” she said of venues.

The biggest issues she has noticed are in restaurants, particularly high-end restaurants, which in Dublin can often be downstairs in basement areas. However, a lot of shops are “very good” and have adapted well to the changes needed.

She hopes the blog will be an “eye opening experience” and help people think about their own facilities.

I just think that people are too used to being treated this way. You shouldn’t be having to use a disgusting toilet.

Building regulations in Ireland lay out the specifics of what is required for accessibility, but Bruton says that there is “no one to police it afterwards”, so a lot can be lost between planning permission and completion.

Pic: Shutterstock

While some venues have wheelchair access, the route into the building could be long, via cobbled streets or far away from the main door. “I sort of feel like some businesses tick a box saying ‘we have this in place’. While it is good that you can get into a building, it should be better.”

The benefits to business are not to be underestimated. “Customer loyalty is so huge. I know what places I can go to and I will always go to these places. Same with my friends and family,” said Bruton.

She would like to work with managers and businesses on access issues, and Bruton also encourages people renting public space to “think who can come in your front door. Try and give your business to buildings that are already accessible”.

As for everyone else, she encourages people to “be a bit more open minded”.

If you sees someone is struggling, help them out. Nobody is enjoying that. Make someone’s day a bit easier by being sounder.

Raising awareness

John Dolan, CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland, said that Bruton’s blog is “an amazing way of raising awareness of the issues surrounding accessibility, not only for people with disabilities, but for the general public as a whole”.

He noted that around forty or fifty years ago, two men did similar work looking at cinemas and dancehalls, and their appearance on the Late Late Show “was one of the first times that awareness of accessibility for people with disabilities came up”.

Today though, we have tools that mean that we can make places more accessible, we have a National Disability Strategy, building codes, and better technology but we still have a long way to go for this truly impact of the everyday life of people with disabilities.

Dolan said that in Ireland access “is about the person with the disability feeling accepted, and people around them respecting them and accommodating their needs”.

The DFI said that Ireland needs to have a transport system that is accessible to everyone.  “We hear of people needing to be lifted out of their wheelchairs onto buses due to their inaccessibility, or having to wait for nearly an hour on a wheelchair accessible taxi.”

If accessibility is improved for people with disabilities, it is ultimately improved for everyone in society.

Accessibility around the country

There was a time in Cashel where wheelchair users were restricted to using one area without issue – the main street. But thanks to the Cashel Gold Star initiative, now there are very little places in the heritage town that aren’t accessible.

Anne Bradshaw, Development Worker with the HSE, explained that Cashel Gold Star was “in response to community concerns around the lack of access”. Work with voluntary groups in Cashel began in 2006, when they started engaging with agencies, private and public businesses.

St John’s Cathedral, the local bank, post office, even the rock of Cashel, had once been difficult to access. But that has come full circle, said Bradshaw, and now people “can access all those buildings freely”.

The launch event was even held on the rock of Cashel – showing that after five years of persistent work, accessibility was at hand. Now the project has moved to Tipperary Town, with plans for Wexford also.

Read: Disability access for Garden of Remembrance to be addressed>

Read: New art exhibition will be accessible to blind audiences>

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