Tuesday 20 February 2018

Wheelchair users hitting many bumps in the road

Margaret Roddy

THERE'S a saying 'walk a mile in my shoes' to see what another person's life is like. Change that that to 'travel a mile in my chair' to see what wheelchair users in Dundalk face on a daily basis as they try to make their way around the town's streets.

John Morgan, who has compiled a survey on accessibility, hopes that his findings will be used by the town council to make Dundalk easier for people to get around.

Although he had been associated with the Irish Wheelchair Association for many years, John admits that it wasn't until he became a wheelchair user himself that he realised the obstacles which users must overcome to travel around town.

Having undergone brain surgery as a child which led to him having to learn to walk again, John began experiencing mobility problems as a result of paralysis which returned in recent years.

'It started to get bad in 2008 and I was in a lot of pain and discomfort so, by 2012, I was advised to use a wheelchair,' he said.

After returning to education and completing his Leaving Cert in 2010, John then commenced an employer-based training programme with the National Learning Network in Dundalk.

As part of the course, John decided to carry out an accessibility survey of the town centre and, assisted by fellow course participant Seamus O'Grady, he set out on a journey through the town's main streets.

'Using the Market Square as a starting point, I went around the town in my chair, with Seamus taking photos,' said John.

While the recently refurbished Market Square proved ideal for wheelchair users, John quickly encountered a variety of problems once he ventured onto the streets.

One of the biggest problems facing wheelchair users is the drop between footpaths and road which means that they get a jerk in the neck, explained John.

'As a lot of people are using wheelchairs due to having been in a car accident, their spine is already weak, so this causes a lot of pain.'

Gullies and uneven surfaces are another problem at different locations throughout the town.

And it's not just wheelchair users that are affected by these difficulties.

The elderly, parents with pushchairs, even people making deliveries with pallet trucks all have great difficulty, according to John.

'We saw one elderly lady with her shopping trolley having great difficulty crossing the road at Yorke Street as she couldn't get the trolley up onto the footpath,' he said. 'There's also a tree in the middle of the footpath at the Long Walk which means people in wheelchairs or with buggies can't get round it.'

'The Market Square is a fabulous job. I could waltz across it,' said John. 'I'd hope that when the council is doing repair works around town they will be able to fix these problems.'

As part of his research, he visited Cavan which has recently been named an EU Eden destination for its accessibility.

'Louth is an Age Friendly County and it would be great if the council could some of our findings on board.'

The Argus

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