GOREY LEAVING CERT APPLIED student student Matthew McGrath (18) has gotten his community talking about wheelchair access to beaches thanks to a petition.
In less than a week close to 1,800 signatures have been gathered online after Matthew spent six weeks investigating accessibility levels at north Wexford beaches.
He discovered a total of ten beaches and took photographs of the conditions, whether it was how steep a hill was, step access only, uneven and broken ground or overly grassy pathways, all were inaccessible.
A total of 20KM of beach covered from Castletown to Cahore, Matthew said that that the campaign aims to promote inclusion and access to local beaches.
"I travel to many beaches with my family and friends and I am usually restricted to the car park when I want to be down on the beach enjoying all the activities. I feel a bit left out when I live in Wexford and can’t access the beaches.
“I’ve had a difficulty when it comes to this since as far as I could remember so the fact that people are supporting the campaign means a lot. I like the fact that people are on my side and want to help me because I wouldn’t have got this far so quickly without that”.
Matthew plans to present the petition to TDs, Senators, Wexford County Council, local councillors as well as the general public, but he is looking for more support from both the able-bodied and disabled community.
“It won’t be for another month or two, but I can’t wait to present it to the politicians with so many signatures to show that it wasn’t just a few people who felt this way. I’ll decide what to do once we have enough signatures to go ahead with it. It all started when I started Leaving Cert Applied and I was looking for work experience and I wanted to work on a project to do with accessibility to beaches. I really wanted to make my work experience count for something, and I often feel excluded from family and friends down at the beach as I can't get close to where people are gathering, swimming and chatting. I have lots of personal experience of the difficulties accessing beaches in my local area as the paths and trail don’t accommodate my wheelchair. In some instances, a simple rubber mat would make access so much better”.
Being a big sports fan, Matthew said that he’s missing out on water sports that may be taking place at beaches while his family are all big sea swimmers and he feels he cannot get close enough to try support them.
Matthew has a life-long medical condition which sees him using a wheelchair and a ventilator, as he is completely paralysed and cannot move his arms or legs.
What Matthew really wants is for the government or council to pick one of the ten beaches and make it accessible.
“The pathway to Ballymoney beach north is not accessible because there’s a big hill down to it and on the south side there’s big lumps of grass going over it. A disabled car parking space recently went in the Ballymoney beach car park which has made a huge difference to my family but why not take it all the way and make the path over from South to North beach accessible. The way it is now it’s very uneven and stony.
"I’d love one of those beaches in north Wexford could be chosen and that I would be there so they can make it accessible for me to go down. I’d like to be included in it and I think other people like me would be as well. It's a real pity the way it is now so we need the relevant decision-makers and public representatives to listen and get it sorted out”.
Matthew thanked his PA Robert Wallace, Joy Redmond who helped him build the website, his LCA classmates as well as friends and family.
From his research, Matthew discovered that 15 per cent of the Wexford population have at least one disability, meaning they cannot access many of the county’s beautiful beaches.
To read more research visit ww.wheeleasybeaches.ie and to sign the petition, search “Wheelchair Access to beaches in North Wexford” on www.my.uplift.ie.