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Opinion: Stranded on platforms, crawling through faulty lifts: travelling with a disability on public transport

Sean O’Kelly tells of the “hit and miss” service that humiliates and distresses people with disabilities.

Sean O'Kelly

IF YOU’RE A wheelchair user in this country, you’re treated like a second class citizen and that’s not right. 

It’s really hit or miss whether wheelchair users and other people with disabilities can get on any form of public transport across Ireland. We have to give a large amount of notice to access trains and Darts and even then we can be left stranded on the tracks.

We’re a forgotten society playing lift roulette while trying to live our everyday lives.

  • (Read more here on how you can support a major Noteworthy project delving into the accessibility of public transport in Ireland for people with disabilities.)

A few years ago, I was going for a driving lesson in Clontarf and gave a couple of hours’ notice that I would be getting the train, as required.

When I arrived at the Dart station in Clontarf, nobody was there to meet me to help me off the train, as I had expected. The driver of the Dart then had to help me off using the ramps. I was lucky as some drivers have refused to do this so I have had to travel to the next available station.

However, this was not the end of my disrupted journey that day. When I went to get the lift to enable me to cross the tracks, it was out of service. This wasn’t alerted to me when I checked online before I left.

I was stranded. Left on the platform for half an hour until a staff member from Killester came to get me back on the Dart. Not only was my day wasted but my driving lesson had to be cancelled.

Disabling people with disabilities

I am not alone. Last month my friend who is also a wheelchair user was going to Dun Laoghaire on the Dart to go to the library. He was trapped in the lift at the station as the doors only reopened four inches. Nobody responded to the help button but eventually, a fellow passenger got an Irish Rail employee.

In the end, he had to get out of his chair, crawl along the filthy lift floor and out between the small gap. His wheelchair was dismantled in order to get it out. It was humiliating, distressful and a complete disgrace.

In addition to these problems, my local station, Dalkey, doesn’t even have a lift. In order to cross the tracks, wheelchair users have to travel an extra 150m over a bridge with a narrow path compared to those who can simply walk over a pedestrian bridge. I find it quite dangerous so I always drive to Blackrock or Dun Laoghaire station.

Dalkey - Walking V Wheelchair The journey for a person walking (above) versus a wheelchair user (below) at Dalkey station Source: Google Maps

These situations that people with disabilities find themselves in leads to anxiety when using public transport. Will there be someone to meet me to get me off though I notified them hours ago? Will the lift be broken even though it says it’s working on the online system? Will I have to once again cancel my plans?

Lack of freedom

It is 2020 and this is the Ireland we are living in. We are the worst country in Western Europe to have a disability. In 2018, it was found that 38% of the Irish population with a disability was at risk of poverty or social exclusion which was the highest in Western Europe and almost 10% above the EU average.

It’s time things changed. We need change.

It’s not right to have to plan your life ahead. To have to give four hours notice in Dublin and as much as 24 outside the capital. It’s not right to have so little freedom.

Without reliable public transport, you could be delayed for work. It is embarrassing having to ring your boss and say you’re late because of a broken lift or unmanned station.

Ireland has one of the lowest employment rates for people with disabilities in the EU at just 26.2%, compared to the EU average of 48.1%, according to a recent European Commission report. Unreliable transport is not helping.

Click here if you are having problems seeing this map.

Hydraulic ramp solution

Eventually, I did make it to my driving lesson and passed my driving test. Having a car is like walking. I just love having freedom so much. But not all people with disabilities can drive so they have to rely on public transport.

My solution is simple. The first carriage of each train, either Dart, Commuter or Intercity, should have a hydraulic ramp similar to those in Dublin Bus. We would know that there is a designated area of the train that is reliable and we wouldn’t have to give notice. I know that’s segregation but it’s better than what it is now.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross met with me and I put this solution and many others to him but nothing has come to the fore. I hope as a result of this upcoming election that things will change.

The independent living mantra is ‘nothing about us, without us’ so it’s important to include people with disabilities rather than make decisions about us behind our backs.

We just want to live our normal everyday lives, whatever normal is. Please let us.

Sean O’Kelly is a disability activist and a co-founder of a group called Access for all. He hosts a weekly radio show on Dublin South FM from 4-5pm. Want to find out how accessible Temple Bar is? Watch our 360 video featuring O’Kelly here.

LIFT OUT investigation 

Do you want to know more about the accessibility of public transport in Ireland for people with disabilities?

The Noteworthy team want to do an in-depth investigation into this issue through freedom of information requests and by talking to those affected.

They also want to want to investigate what is being done by Irish Rail, Luas and other public transport bodies and whether these actions are adequate for passengers.

Here’s how to help support this proposal> 

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