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Column: 'I'm challenging the decision makers here to spend 24 hours in my wheelchair'

It’s time Ireland’s 40,000 wheelchair users had equality too, writes Sean O’Kelly.

Sean O'Kelly Student and disability activist

PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES are treated like second class citizens in this country.

Just over 10 years ago, the government back then signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. And yet we are the last country to still ratify it.

There are many of the 600,000 people with disabilities who feel left out because of the lack of services provided and the cutbacks over the years.

Over the past year more and more people with physical disabilities have spoken out about issues encountered within society. Most of these were to do with public transport. I want to share with you all my experiences of life in a wheelchair and my thoughts on the society I was born into.

My story

I have been a full time wheelchair user since the age of 9 but I have had Spina Bifida all my life. It’s been only in the last 10 years that I have realised the many obstacles faced by the 40,000 wheelchair users. In fact life is one big obstacle if you are sitting down.

I am currently learning to drive but I use public transport on a very regular basis, especially the DART.

According to written Irish Rail policy, a wheelchair user has to ring the departing station 24 hours in advance. I usually give a couple of hours notice.

There have been many incidents but I would like to highlight a few.

Using public transport

I used to take driving lessons in Clontarf with the Irish Wheelchair Association. Last year I was getting the DART to Clontarf for a lesson.

The protocol for getting a wheelchair user on the DART, a ramp has to be brought out by Irish Rail employees so that there is bridge from the platform to train. When I was getting the DART last year, I gave them a couple of hours notice.

I got on without any difficulty but when I got to Clontarf, there was no Irish Rail employee there to meet me. Therefore passengers had to get me off. This has happened many times before.

When I approached the lift, I discovered that it was out of service and I was not given notice about this. I was frustrated and angry when this happened. I rang Pearse Station and they got someone to come and help me back on the DART.

As a result of all of this, I was stranded on the platform for half an hour.

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Broken down lifts

On Monday I was going to get the train home from college. When I got into the lift on the southbound side, the lift would not work.

I was lucky that the Irish Rail employee was with me. He got out of the lift and went down to the other end of the lift to see if it was definitely broken because he had told me that it was working 10 or 15 minutes previously.

These are just two of the many stories that wheelchair users face on a daily basis. More should be done to incorporate people with disabilities into society because as it stands we feel like we are living in developing country when it comes down to infrastructure, the built environment and public bodies.

Irish Rail have cut their workforce so that virtually all stations in the Dublin region are unmanned.

As a result of all of the obstacles that I have encountered, I have set up a campaign called A Day in my Wheels. I am challenging the decision makers of this country to spend 24 hours in a wheelchair to experience for themselves what we experience daily.

In May 2015 Ireland had the marriage equality referendum, it’s time we had equality too.

Sean O’Kelly is a 24-year-old Marketing and Digital Media student. He’s also an activist for disabled rights. His Facebook page is facebook.com/adayinmywheels2016 and my twitter page is twitter.com/adayinmywheels

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About the author:

Sean O'Kelly  / Student and disability activist

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