by Elizabeth Walsh
Walking in my shoes – accessibility explained. Each and every day our lives impact on each person’s life whose path we cross, metaphorically and physically, positively or negatively!
The alarm shrills, breaking into the young man’s sub-conscious, as he struggles to wake on a wet autumn morning. He never dozes on waiting for a second alarm, as many of his friends might do, he needs the time to prepare for his day’s work, which he loves: The fun in teaching young people a skill, which may be challenging for them to learn, and the satisfaction when they finally master the skill, which may enable them to find employment.
The young man needs to be out early on a wet morning, as there will be an extra demand on transport, there always is when it is raining.
He pushes slowly up the incline to the bus stop, where already there are a few familiar faces. Some nod in recognition. A bus looms in the distance. As it advances, windows steamed, the passengers push forward, rather like a charge at a football match. The young man finally manages to get noticed by the bus driver. The driver points over his shoulder and shakes his head. “Sorry, son. Buggy back there. No room for a chair on this one. Better luck on the next bus.” Through the steamed-up glass, a young self-righteous looking girl, avoiding his eyes through the fogged window, sits with her hand on a (fully collapsible) baby buggy in the space allocated for wheelchair users. One space per bus: It is not considered that two wheelchair users might wish to travel together or that more than one person in the same family or group might be a wheelchair user. Other passengers all get spaces on the bus and leave. He is on his own.
The rain is heavier. A second bus speeds by, does not even stop. Time ticks by. A third one arrives; once again, there is a buggy in the space allocated for a wheelchair user. Other passengers find spaces. He is again on his own. Finally a bus arrives, which the young man can board. However he is now late for work.
Today is his Mum’s birthday! He has invited her out tonight, into the city. He has booked the nice restaurant, which she favours. They will take the bus to allow her to have a glass of white wine with her meal to celebrate.
The evening kicks off to a good start. The food is delicious, tasty, different, and they chat and laugh, as they eat, enjoying their celebration. They have dessert, as a treat, and linger over it. Time to go, it is late.
There are only two other passengers at the bus stop when the bus arrives. They wait for the ramp to drop. Nothing happens. They wait. Nothing happens. His Mum speaks with the driver. The mechanism is jammed. He wants to leave them there, in the middle of the city, in the dark, and it is getting late. His Mum says that she will manage the wheelchair onto the bus. The driver says he cannot allow her to do that. She says that she will do that, if the ramp will not work. The passengers are beginning to get disgruntled. One shouts at her, “Come on Missus, off with ya, you’re holding up the show. You’ll have to wait. You’re just delaying us all.” Another joins in, agreeing. No one offers to help. The bus pulls away and darkness engulfs the night, as the celebration somehow gets shattered.
He puts down his phone, laughing, “we are going to that film tonight that I was telling you about. We will meet early so that we can both get there”.
When they meet at the bus stop, they have already tossed for who will take the first bus and who will wait. A bus trundles to a stop, as they register the driver shaking his head. Buggy in the space for wheelchair users. A second bus arrives, this time there is a wheelchair user already on board. A third bus arrives, the ramp is lowered and one wheelchair user is underway, to wait at the other end for his friend. A twenty-five minute journey has taken roughly two-and-a-half hours by the time the two friends meet up again at their destination.
Ireland is ‘opening up’. Cities and towns are becoming pedestrianised. “Hop on your bike, catch the bus, leave the car at home” blasts out of the mouths of talk-show hosts. Abandon people with disabilities. Throw obstacles in their path; in fact make it a complete obstacle course for them. Deny them their human rights to independently access their cities and towns, call it progress, people like to party in pedestrianised areas, don’t they? Who is responsible for inclusion and human rights of everyone in society? Everyone is. You are.
How accessible is your town or city? How accessible is public transport? What have you done about it? Do you care?
Walk in this young man’s shoes and experience what exclusion and discrimination feel like.