Saturday 15 December 2018

'I waited on the platform on one of the coldest nights of the year' - wheelchair user stranded at train station

Getting around can prove difficult for people with disabilities, says Padraic Moran, who outlines some of the daily commuting challenges he faces

Frustrated: Padraic Moran pictured with his special assistance dog Gail in Bray, Co Wicklow
Frustrated: Padraic Moran pictured with his special assistance dog Gail in Bray, Co Wicklow PHOTO: JUSTIN FARRELLY

Work is busy in the run-up to Christmas. I put in a weekend shift just as the weather turned icy. I'm a service specialist for Sky. That's the day job. I also work as a sports reporter and production assistant with East Coast Radio. I have a degree in communications, and in my spare time I like to play a variety of sports.

I won a gold medal at the Boccia World Open Championships in Lisbon in 2010. Boccia is a bit like boules, and it's played by people with motor impairment - oh yeah, I have cerebral palsy.

So Sunday a few weeks ago, I left the office at 6.30pm and headed to Lansdowne Dart station. I called the control hub at Pearse to let them know I'd need a ramp, and would be disembarking at Bray. They said they'd call ahead, but the message didn't get through.

When the Dart got to Bray, there was nobody waiting with the mobile ramp, so the doors closed. I couldn't press the emergency button, because the emergency switches at wheelchair level on the Dart are disarmed, which effectively makes them pointless, and I couldn't reach the one higher up. So the doors closed and off we went to Greystones.

I get stranded in Greystones so often, I'm almost used to it, but I also knew this Dart was headed down a siding, and that would mean a seriously long delay, so when the doors opened I swung my legs through them to stop them closing again, and waited for the driver to come and take me off.

I waited on the platform on one of the coldest nights of the year until the Rosslare train pulled into the station, and the driver got me on and back to Bray. I got home at 9.45pm instead of 8.30pm, the Rosslare train was late, and the Dart after that was delayed. This kind of thing happens regularly to me and others right across the country.

There used to be notices in Dart stations informing users if lifts were out of order at other stations on the route. That was useful, as I could plan my journey and get off at a different station. Now those notices have been removed, so I frequently get off and find the lift isn't working, and have to wait for the next train.

We're told to check the website before travelling to see which lifts are out of order. Do able-bodied people have to check the website? Do tourists with disabilities know they need to check the website before travelling?

I've been fortunate to travel abroad and see how public transport works elsewhere. In Portugal, I was able to make my way to the centre of Lisbon without once having to ask for help. In London it's a roll-on roll-off service. On SNCF trains in Paris, dedicated employees are on hand to escort you to your seat and help you on and off. The service is free of charge, because they say that having a disability shouldn't make it harder to travel. In Ireland, it does.

If all these countries can run a fair and equal system, why can't we? It baffles and infuriates me that we can't get it right. Here, people with disabilities have to call ahead to arrange assistance.

How is someone who is non-verbal expected to do that? How would able-bodied people feel if they had to notify Irish Rail before travelling? One in four people with disabilities in Ireland won't use public transport because it's not an accessible system.

Ireland is the only EU country not to have ratified the UN Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) and I believe the Government has no intention of doing so, because it would have to put legislation in place to guarantee those rights. They say there isn't the money to fund it. Why not use the Apple tax to do so?

From where I sit in my motorised wheelchair, successive governments have shown nothing but contempt for people with disabilities.

When I started working full-time, I lost my medical card. I felt like saying, "Oh, so I'm cured now?" The inhalers I use for asthma are not covered by the Drugs Payment Scheme, as asthma is a separate condition from my cerebral palsy.

Somebody in Social Welfare suggested I work part-time and have everything covered, but why shouldn't I work full-time? Six months ago, I spoke on Joe Duffy's Liveline show. Shortly afterwards I got a letter saying I had to return my travel pass, as I'm in full-time employment. This is a bad system. It doesn't incentivise people with disabilities to work.

Gail is my special assistance dog. She helps me take off my coat, opens doors and drawers for me, brings me my crutches and the TV remote, picks up my credit card if I drop it on the floor, and barks if I need somebody's attention.

She makes me more independent than Irish Rail. At work, she doubles up as a therapy dog. If my colleagues have a bad day, they get cuddles from Gail. She's an incredible support to me, yet there is no government funding for Dogs for the Disabled, as there is for Guide Dogs, and there's a five-year waiting list.

This is not a forward country. People with disabilities are treated like second-class citizens, and instead of making a concerted effort to fix the system, we paper over the cracks.

I want the head of Irish Rail to come and speak to me. I want Transport Minister Shane Ross to speak to me. I want the decision makers to make people with disabilities part of the decision-making process.

There's nobody in Government who is physically disabled, yet they decide our fate without knowing the daily grind of being in a wheelchair. It's time to stop papering over the cracks and fix the system.

In conversation with Celine Naughton

Irish Independent

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