THE Lord Mayor of Cork yesterday found himself waiting 20 minutes for a taxi and unable to access some city shops when he was temporarily confined to a wheelchair.
Cllr Des Cahill also encountered difficulty buying produce in the English Market and picking up a coffee when he took part in the exercise, which was organised by the Cork City Partnership.
The initiative saw elected members attempt to replicate the experiences of people with disabilities when it comes to navigating Cork city.
Some members were confined to wheelchairs, while others experienced a loss of sight or hearing.
It follows a similar exercise conducted in 2006, with Cork City Partnership assessing the progress made in terms of improving access in the decade since.
For the Lord Mayor, it was a matter of navigating the city from the Clayton Hotel on Lapp's Quay to the Grand Parade.
On the way, he stopped to buy a newspaper, some produce in the English Market and a coffee.
While he was left waiting for 20 minutes at the hotel for a taxi with disability access, he fared better than some others who were unable to source transport at all.
Parking proved difficult, with Pembroke Street fully occupied, though a space was found a short distance away.
One shop was totally avoided as it only had stepped access, while others had high counters.
Mr Cahill said, "From a shopping perspective, it was a bit of an eye-opener. Access wasn't an issue but the height of counters was.
"This was a particular problem in the coffee shop. I wouldn't go again because of the height issue. I felt quite unsafe handling hot coffee, lifting it from a height down to the level I was at."
Also taking part were the Cork Deaf Association, with Carl Plover, team leader, claiming that there are valuable lessons to be learned from the exercise.
Mr Plover said, "There are still problems when it comes to things like renewing car insurance or making phone inquiries – there are loads of obstacles, like people insisting on speaking to the person in question.” Others were given visual impairments and tasked with navigating the city.
Aoife Josh of the National Council for the Blind (NCBI) explained some of the issues.
She said, "Non-audible traffic lights, big steps down from footpaths, cracks or raised tiles - even the traffic sounds closer when you aren't distracted by sight."
Johnny Murphy, a former board member of Spinal Injuries Ireland who is setting up his own charity, Spinal Voice Ireland, said that there are many issues in the city.
Mr Murphy is not confined to a wheelchair, but a spinal injury has affected his use of his hands and legs.
He said, "A lot of places in the city which are quite good and open still have particularly heavy doors, which can be very difficult.
“City Hall has done very well, but some places like coffee docks are too narrow and the counters are too high, which is really difficult for wheelchair users.” Fiona Dineen, administrative officer in the Roads & Transportation directorate with Cork City Council, said the exercise was a great opportunity for those involved.
"Initiatives like today are a real eye-opener," she said.
"They make these issues real to people who may not typically experience them and it can change the conversation when it comes to making changes to city areas.