Tuesday 23 April 2019

Smiles all round as Vicky's campaign for a bus succeeds

Wheelchair accessible bus set for Donegal to Sligo route will allow Vicky to study at IT Sligo

Paul Deering

A campaign by a Ballyshannon based mother of two to have a wheelchair accessible bus put on the route from Donegal to Sligo has had a happy ending.

Some 8,500 signatures had been gathered in an online petition started by Vicky Matthew in the hope Bus Eireann would put a low suspension bus on route 480.

She begins a course at IT Sligo in September and desperately needed the situation to be sorted before then.

Last Thursday, Vicky received the news she had been waiting on, Bus Eireann, with the assistance of the National Transport Authority will be providing a low suspension bus on the route in August.

The Derry via Donegal and Ballyshannon to Sligo service will be the first to receive one of the new 40 buses which will be introduced nationwide.

Bus Éireann have told Vicky that they are also working on a number of accessible projects nationwide, two of which include the stops in Ballyshannon and Sligo.

Vicky told The Sligo Champion that she was felling both delighted and emotional.

She said the low suspension bus would not only be of assistance to other wheelchair users along the route but anyone who has difficulty with mobility.

And, she has vowed her campaign will not be stopping.

"The campaign doesn't end here as it wasn't just for my route it is for all routes nationwide. Next week, I will be going to the Dail to hand in the petition to the Minister for transport, Shane Ross.

Following an illness just over ten years ago, Vicky became a wheelchair user but she has never let get this get in the way of her goals.

Her course in September is Applied Sports with Business and she hopes to specialise in disability in sport.

Being a mother of two and living in Ballyshannon, Vicky said it wasn't an option for her to become the typical student and look for accommodation in Sligo and a daily commute by bus to the IT was the only viable solution.

The 480 bus from Ballyshannon to IT Sligo has no wheelchair access and the only other public transport available is the Express route which requires at least 24 hour notice of an intending wheelchair user passenger.

Vicky explained the 24 hour notice is to allow Bus Eireann time to remove four seats from the bus to allow space for a wheelchair. The person is then lifted in through a window into the bus via a lift which Vicky described as "being lifted in like cargo."

Vicy says she received fantastic support and backing from IT President Brendan McCormack and had already visited the college where she has been assured she will be fully supported and her needs met.

She's also met with the Students' Union and says she is really looking forward to starting her course in September.

This week she will be making another trip to the college and while she says she was thrown in at the deep end six weeks ago being an advocate for people with disabilities is something she has enjoyed doing and that it just wasn't about here.

"The bus route covers 23 communities so this new bus will benefit others as well," she says.

After completing her degree course which will be for three years, she intends to study for an MA, specialising in disability.

Vicky says everyone has been wonderful to her in her campaign and she cannot thank them enough.

She is currently finishing a business administration course and is looking forward to starting in Sligo in September.

She is a native of Cashelard just outside Ballyshannon and says that having spent many years in central Europe she decided to return home to Donegal a decade ago to raise her two sons.

Of her illness which necessitated her using a wheelchair, Vicky says: "I'm in good form how. It took years to make progress."

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny has congratulated Vicky for her determination and courage in achieving this, not only for herself, but for all wheelchair users in the North-West.

"This is not the only route which will benefit, but the entire new Bus Éireann fleet will be accessible.

"Let's hope this is only the start of achieving a totally accessible fleet covering the whole of Ireland. Accessibility is a right not a privilege and it should be the norm, not the exception," he said.

Sligo Champion