A vibrant and representative group of people attended the Public Meeting on April 15 where the issue of accessibility on the streets and public places and buildings in Clonakilty were discussed and saw the re-establishment of Clonakilty Access Group.
Local town councillor Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin extended a welcome and saying that an Access Group was formed in the town in the mid 1990s and achieved a lot in it’s two to three years of existence, but hadn’t met for many years, during which he said, certain things had slipped.
He also said that over the last year, the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) and CoAction had opened centres in Clonakilty, and that they, as well as local COPE clients and residents at the two residential care homes who have physical disabilities are often around town and unfortunately experience obstacles of various sorts.
He also stated that there are people with visual impairments in the community who have difficulties as a result of obstacles, and that people having strokes; using crutches because of injuries, etc. often encounter issues also. He stressed that the meeting would be positive, and as well as identifying problems, also offer solutions and wanted to work with the community to make Clonakilty town a more welcoming one for people with physical disabilities.
He also said that Transition Year students from Sacred Heart Secondary School, along with the IWA and input from CoAction have been working in the background over the last few months on addressing issues raised by people with limited mobility.
He said that the meeting was timely given that there are plans to resurface the main thoroughfare through town from Fax Bridge to the AIB corner, and “now is the time to influence design before the work commences”.
Kellie Cregan and Dearbhla Cullinane, TY students from Sacred Heart Secondary School showed a seven-minute video in which they borrowed a wheelchair and used it on the main streets of the town, vividly capturing the difficulties encountered. It highlighted obstacles such as refuse bins and advertising boards on footpaths; poorly placed gullies; footpaths not dished; steps into premises etc. The girls said they would have had no idea of the difficulties or the embarrassment until they carried out this project. All complimented them on their work, which illustrated well the problems, but also how easy many solutions are.
Sinead Burke and Mags O’Connor of the Clonakilty IWA Centre revealed how they see first-hand the difficulties people with limited mobility encounter on a daily basis. A list of examples of barriers to inclusion in community was read out, some of which were already seen in the girls video. Sinead hoped that with the re-establishment of an access group that, in time, Clonakilty could looks towards achieving a Gold Star Status for being an inclusive and accessible town. Her colleague Mags O’Connor spoke of the IWA Best Practice Guidelines, which is a manual listing all the requirements around accessibility such as car spaces, bathroom sizes, door sizes, public footpath measurements etc. These guidelines are available to download on www.iwa.ie and Sinead and Mags said they would be available to offer advice around accessibility free of charge to anyone in the community that needed it.
A general discussion was then held with a range of other items raised that had not already been mentioned. Many of these were in relation to the challenges faced by people with visual impairments walking around Clonakilty, such as scaffolding/ladders on footpaths; street furniture and low level floral displays that people bump into.
Concern was also raised that Inchydoney Beach is no longer an accessible beach to wheelchair users and people with balance difficulties.
It was felt that no one intentionally goes out to place obstructions, but lack of awareness causes them to appear. It was also felt that the statutory authorities should implement their own regulations, and talks in the secondary schools after the summer would be a good idea as well. It was agreed to make a formal submission to the plans for the town centre re-surfacing to make them more disabled person friendly, and to seek meetings with the Chamber of Commerce and Council.
The meeting agreed that a formal Access Group should be established and could achieve a lot. The following were elected: Chairperson – Elizabeth Walsh; Secretary – Kevin McCaughey; Treasurer – John McCarthy; PRO – Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin, Committee members: Sinead Burke, (IWA); Dearbhla Cullinane, (TY student Sacred Heart Secondary School); Liam Ó Broin, (TY student Community College) and Hugh Bancroft.
The committee held a meeting after the public meeting where a number of sub-committees were established to work towards certain objectives before the next full committee meeting in a few weeks time. In the meantime, Facebook and Twitter pages (both ClonAccessGroup) have been established to publicise activities and interact with the public. For any queries please e-mail Chairperson Elizabeth Walsh on ClonAccessGroupChair@gmail.com.