A local wheelchair user has highlighted the difficulties facing disabled people trying to access buildings and public areas in Longford town.
Diagnosed with Friedrich’s Ataxia at the age of 12, Mary Killane has been relying on a wheelchair for mobility for more than half her life.
“It’s difficult to use some of the footpaths in town because the surface is broken,” she told this paper. “With the state of them, I wouldn’t be able to get around by myself. Some of the footpath ramps are too high up off the road, so they’re hard to use, too.”
Ms Killane says wheelchair users are presented with further challenges when trying to enter many premises in the town.
“The aisles in a lot of shops can be hard to get down because they’re too narrow,” she explained. “Some shops also have steps at the entrances which mean I need help to get in.
“We can’t go into a lot of the restaurants around town because they don’t have wheelchair toilets,” she continued. “And there are only two pubs we can go to in town because the rest don’t have wheelchair toilets either.”
Another wheelchair user, Madelaine Canning, claimed that, “In shops, the aisles are so tightly packed you can’t get through because it’s all geared towards people who can walk. You can’t live independently in Longford.”
Valerie Moran of Longford Centre for Independent Living highlighted the importance of providing access and facilities for disabled people.
“Access to the built environment is key to promoting a more inclusive society,” she said. “It simply means that with a little foresight, imagination and real effort to implement building regulations fully, individuals can move freely and unhindered - not just people with disabilities, but also parents with young children, the elderly, and people with temporary disabilities.”
Ms Moran added that this can be achieved with modest modifications to premises, “something as simple as a wider door, a ramp, lower counter tops, and proper toilet facilities. Even merely leaving enough space between aisles to get through a shop safely. Access to the phyical environment enables everyone in achieving greater independence, participation and social inclusion to pursue an active social and economic life.”
At the same time, Ms Moran admitted staff do what they can, saying: “In my own experience, I’ve found the people working in these businesses to be as helpful as possible under the circumstances.”