Many of you out there reading this may have a disability or know someone with a disability but there are many others who have no experience of disability both directly or indirectly and for this reason, I am writing this article. I am a wheelchair user and have been since I was nice.
I have a disability called Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. Spina Bifida literally means split spine. It affects 1 in every 1000 children are born with Spina Bifida in Ireland. Hydrocephalus is a build up of fluid on the brain. With Hydrocephalus, fluid from the brain does not naturally flow from the head throughout the body, so pressure builds up in your skull. Looking back now, I realise that there are a lot more services and supports for those with disabilities under the age of 18. The reason I say this is because since I turned 18, I have become aware that people with disabilities are discriminated against on a very regular basis.
According to Irish Rail, people who need assistance with the Irish Rail services need to ring their departing station 4 hours in advance. This used to be 24 hours. In the case of wheelchair users this is so that a ramp can be brought out to bridge the gap between the train and the platform. I’ve found that in a lot of cases in the Dublin stations, the DART stations are unmanned on a regular basis.
In 2016, I was going for driving lessons with the Irish Wheelchair Association in Clontarf. I was commuting on the DART from Dalkey each week. In March of that year, I rang Dalkey station a few hours in advance to let them know where I was going. I got to Clontarf DART station and there was nobody there to meet me – the driver of the train got me off.
I approached the lift at the station to discover that it was not working, I was not told of this prior to my arrival. This meant I was stranded on the platform. Luckily, I had the number of Pearse Street DART station so I rang them. I told them where I was and what the situation was – I rang in anger and upset.
As I was sitting there, I knew I had to do something about this. I knew a protest could get nasty so over the coming days and weeks, I set up a campaign called ‘A day in my wheels’. I am challenging the politicians and decision makers to spend 24 hours in a wheelchair to experience the many challenges faced regularly.
The campaign is not just targeting the politicians. It is aimed at the general public too. I feel it is very important to educate the many out there who don’t have experience of disability both directly and indirectly.