Athlone Accessibility Awareness Day
In a joint initiative between Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) MS Ireland and NCBI, the national sight loss organisation, four of Athlone’s leading Councillors attempted to navigate their way throughout Athlone’s Town Centre, using a manual wheelchair, a mobility scooter, a white cane and other mobility aids which people with physical and sensory disabilities rely on in their day to day lives. Mayor of Athlone, Cllr Tom Farrell was joined by his colleagues Cllr Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, Cllr Frankie Keena and Cllr John Dolan as they participated in the awareness initiative where they were accompanied by a local person with a physical or sensory disability.
The purpose of the day was to get the Councillors and also the local community thinking about the access issues which people with disabilities living in Athlone face on a regular basis. From a lack of adequate public transport, the poor state of footpaths, obstacles on footpaths, inaccessible buildings and the misuse of Disabled Parking Bays, people with disabilities must overcome a myriad of obstacles when visiting Athlone Town Centre. The Councillors, with the support of staff from Irish Wheelchair Association, MS Ireland and NCBI, undertook a number of challenges, including navigating their way throughout the town centre, posting a letter and stopping for a cup of coffee.
Monica McGowan Hughes, Irish Wheelchair Association, Service Coordinator explained:
People with disabilities are leading fully independent lives, and rightfully expect to be able to participate in all aspects of society. IWA, MS Ireland and NCBI advocate on behalf of their members to ensure that people with disabilities can participate in the economic, social and cultural life of the community.
IWA members have identified access to the built environment as one of the biggest issues facing them in their daily lives. It is also widely acknowledged that access issues have a direct impact on other priorities such as employment, housing, parking and transport. Although progress has been made over the past few years, a lot still needs to be done. The access awareness day is about highlighting the issues in a real and insightful way to the individuals who can make the necessary changes required to improve access standards in Athlone.
Speaking at the Clonbrusk Resource Centre, where all three disability organisations are based, committee member Cllr Frankie Keena who took part in the initiative said that he was delighted to be on the organising committee for the important awareness initiative.
It is so important for elected members to be fully aware of the daily difficulties experienced by people with disabilities as they move throughout the town. A high kerb, steep incline, sandwich boards on footpaths, steps into various retail or business outlets may not be a major obstacle to people who are able to walk but if you are a wheelchair user or need a white cane then these matters become major issues. I want to compliment IWA, MS Ireland and NCBI for coming up with this initiative.
Irish Wheelchair Association has a dedicated National Steering Group on Access that works with the Department of the Environment and local authorities to improve knowledge and awareness of the importance of this issue. The Association also published the ‘Access Guidelines - Designing Accessible Environments’ which is a set of recommendations, information and guidance designed to influence and advocate for future legislation, the development of new regulations and improved access standards.