LAST summer, there was a wonderful buzz around Cork city. The chatter of people dining out on the streets created a wonderful escape from the usual hum of cars driving through the city.
Thanks to some wonderful work by Cork city council, outdoor dining moved from an idea to a reality swiftly and with great success.
It is disappointing that a plan which is necessary for our city sees people with disabilities overlooked yet again with the relocation of disabled parking bays from the pedestrianised streets. These were moved to spaces that weren’t fit for purpose. This should have been rectified immediately and forgotten about.
I spent a lot of time over the last number of months emailing back and forth with council officials and disability activists. Cork City Council initially defended these spaces, saying they had been approved by their internal Access Consultation group and were up to minimum standards.
I sent them on videos and pictures sent to me by activists. They were clearly not up to any standard.
Disabled car users were forced out onto busy roads, there was no dip in the path for wheelchair users and the narrowness of the spaces meant that doors couldn’t be opened fully.
There are clear guidelines for this. The Irish Wheelchair Association, who I contacted for support, have concise descriptions of what these spaces should look like with images available.
A commitment was given by Cork City Council to improve the disabled bays and bring them up to minimum standards. We are now almost a year later and we are still waiting on the full improvement of spaces.
The Council have informed me that there are over 100 disabled parking bays in the city. While this is certainly commendable, it overlooks entirely the root of this problem. Disability activists are not raising concerns about the quantity of spaces but instead the quality. Their voice should be heard and listened to.
This fiasco has shown why exactly we need a full-time Disability Officer within Cork City Council, something I have been proposing for years. Somebody whose key responsibility is improving and examining accessibility within the city for all of those with disabilities. Currently, it appears that disability falls under the remit of the Social Inclusion Unit but this isn’t good. Accessibility and forward planning for disabilities is a complex area. It needs a dedicated staff member, if not fully resourced team.
The National Transport Authority have recently published a Walkability Audit. This is a checklist that can be used to make sure our streets are accessible for people with all different types of disabilities and impairment. This would give us a chance to become a Disability Friendly city, a tourist destination and the leader in accessibility, and equality, in this state.
I have contacted Cork City Council and would hope that when the Covid-19 restrictions lift the Council will be rolling this out.
I have also contacted the Minister’s office and will be keeping pressure on him to provide funding to local authorities for rolling out the audit. We should be paying participants and not expecting people to continue to donate their time for free to analyse and advocate for services that should be available.
Key to this is ensuring that disabled people’s voices are at the core of the Audit. We need to listen to disabled people and those with impairments because they are the experts here. They know what this city needs to reach its full potential and they know what the city they want to live should look like.
Unfortunately, all of these discussions with Cork City Council and Ministers and disability activists are set against the backdrop of a state that has time, a nd again, failed those with disabilities.
Assessments of needs are rarely completed within the legally required 6 month time frame. We are in the midst of a crisis in special school capacity in this city. Adaptation grants and disability or carers allowances must be fought for tooth and nail.
The epitome of our failing in protecting those with disabilities is that we have still failed to ratify the Optional Protocol of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is despite a promise by the last government that they would do so by 2020, and staunch criticism from Fianna Fail on their failing to do so in 2018 when we ratified the rest of the convention. Without ratifying this, people cannot report Ireland to the UN for breaches of the UNCRPD.
How long more can we continue to expect people with disabilities, and their families, to shout the loudest and fight the hardest for their basic human rights?
I will continue to stand alongside those with disabilities, to listen to them and to be their voice whenever I can. Sinn Féin has a vision for society in which all citizens can participate fully in life without being left behind. We will further the rights of people with disabilities, not diminish them.