Dublin named most accessible city in Europe - but campaigners say transport issues remain
Ireland's capital named most accessible city in Europe but disability rights campaigners disagree
Dublin is the most accessible city in Europe according to Alpharooms, an online travel agency.
However, this survey does not reflect the lived experiences of wheelchair users and people with sight loss, according to the Irish Wheelchair Association and the National Council for the Blind Ireland.
In the research conducted by Alpharooms, Dublin scored highly for ease of access for tourists.
The capital ranked first for accessible transport, second for accessible tourist attractions and fourth for accessible hotels, placing it in first overall.
Public transport is the category that Dublin ranked the highest in. Dublin Airport was named Best Airport in Europe for Accessibility at the Airports Council International Awards in 2016.
However, the Luas and the DART are not fully accessible, according to both the National Council for the Blind Ireland (NCBI) and the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA).
"Many tourist attractions, restaurants and pubs have become more accessible to enter, but that does not necessarily mean that they would have a wheelchair accessible toilet," a spokesperson for the IWA said.
"This survey states that within the top five hotels in Dublin, 11 pc of the rooms are wheelchair accessible, but it does not state what standards they are rating it against, and the fact that there are many hotels that have no wheelchair accessible facilities at all."
The IWA said that while Dublin Bus and the LUAS are wheelchair accessible, this does not guarantee access. "Often parents with buggies occupy the designated wheelchair space or on some occasions, the ramps may not be in operation.
"The DART has been made accessible by the use of portable ramps, but you cannot travel spontaneously or in an emergency, as you must ring the station four hours in advance to make sure there is someone to assist you."
In October 2018, the Irish Wheelchair Association launched a National Accessible Transport survey.
According to the survey, 71% of Bus Eireann users with a disability were dissatisfied with the service. 53% of respondents could “never” avail of a taxi on the street. 66% of DART users said they were dissatisfied with the service. 54% of respondents said they were very dissatisfied with Irish Rail. 43% of respondents say that they have been refused access to Dublin Bus.
"People with disabilities have the right to travel on public transport with the same freedom as their peers. The have the right to be able to make decisions on the spot and to travel when and where they wish at a moment’s notice," the IWA spokesperson concluded.
The National Council for the Blind Ireland agreed that Dublin has issues with accessible transport. Kevin Kelly, NCBI’s Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, said that while it is flattering to see Ireland doing well on an international level, the lived experiences of people with sight loss tell a different story.
"This research appears to have used a very narrow definition of accessibility," he told Independent.ie.
"People with sight loss have had long standing issues on trains and especially on the DART. The audio announcements sometimes say Greystones instead of Howth for example," he explained.
"Dublin Bus’ older fleets are retrofitted, so the announcements can be difficult to hear. The Luas is the newest form of transport in Dublin, so their announcements work well."
However, Mr Kelly says the light rail system isn’t perfect either. "When the Luas is approaching, there is no announcement to say where it is going and in what direction."
Yet there is a more pressing problem according to Mr Kelly: a new architectural trend called shared space.
Shared space is when the footpath, bicycle lane and road are merged into one flat surface. This may look aesthetically pleasing, but it is dangerous for people with impaired vision and other mobility issues, according to the NCBI.
"Blind people are forced to compete in the same space as bicycles. This is actually a hot potato in the UK, they have suspended using shared space," Mr Kelly revealed.
However, there is progress being made, albeit slowly. Some galleries and museums have put tactile images on the wall beside paintings and displays.
A tactile image uses a raised surface so that a visually impaired person can 'feel' the picture. They are normally used in conjunction with Braille descriptors.
Alpharooms, an online travel agency, conducted the accessibility study.
Responding to the NCBI and IWA’s assertions, the researchers involved in the study clarified that it was conducted for tourists, not locals.
"We scored each city based on the percentage of stations and carriages that were accessible for that chosen transport, but not personal experiences," one of the researchers said.
"Unfortunately, while some may have had bad experiences, we just looked at the vehicle information and whether they were accessible for people, as opposed to conducting a survey on whether people had struggled to board the transport.
"However, we appreciate that some locals may have had bad experiences on the transport, and we are hoping that with articles such as these, [inaccessibility] will eventually reduce."