Over the past few weeks, children attending the County Longford Youth Service group in Edgeworthstown have been busy discovering just how accessible the area is for wheelchair users.
“The aim of the workshop is to make the children more aware of how accessible the town is to disabled people,” said Mark Noble of the County Longford Youth Service. “There are around 25 or 30 young people in the group who meet up every Tuesday, and we separated them into five or six groups for the workshop. Each one is set a number of tasks as part of the exercise, and the groups are each given a wheelchair which they have to take out and see how easy or hard it is to get around and come up with ideas to resolve problems they encounter.”
Speaking about what the children might come across, Mark said, “For example, they might have to visit the doctor’s surgery, the pharmacy, or some of the local shops. In the shops, they may not be able to reach the highest shelves, so they will have to ask for assistance and report back on how they felt during the experience.”
Potential problems have already been highlighted by some of the groups. “The children encountered problems with vehicles blocking wheelchair access points on the footpaths, and there is also a lack of suitable public toilet facilities for disabled people in the town,” Mark revealed. “Gravelled areas can also be an issue for wheelchairs, because it’s harder to push through the loose stone, and steps are obviously a problem, too.”
Despite these points, the children’s reports have been quite favourable. “Edgeworthstown was found to be quite accessible in general,” Mark explained. “We’re happy because the main point was to raise awareness with the young people themselves. It’s been very well supported, too. Many of their parents have been in touch with us to say they’re delighted we’re highlighting such issues.”
Now that the workshop in Edgeworthstown is nearing completion, the County Longford Youth Service hopes to undertake similar projects in other areas around the county. “We’ll be doing the workshop with our other groups over the next few months,” Mark explained. “At the end of it, the information the young people have gathered can be used to compare wheelchair accessibility rates for various parts of County Longford.”