Killarney’s wheelchair users say more needs to be done to make the town more accessible – as obstructions on footpaths, the lack of suitable taxis, and the abuse of disabled parking spaces – were cited as their primary concerns.
Although they welcomed the launch of a new strategy aimed at making Killarney a leading accessible tourism destination – they say a lot of work still needs to be done.
Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, two wheelchair users who have both resided in Kerry Cheshire Home on St Margaret’s Road for over 20 years, acknowledged that progress has been made but insisted that the situation in Killarney is far from ideal.
“I’m not knocking Killarney or the services here, we’re getting better,” Aileen O’Sullivan, who has been in Killarney for 23 years, said. “But we’ve a very long way to go yet.
“I know we live in a tourist town but certain businesses have sandwich boards and furniture taking up half the path. I think certain people take liberties. I see it everywhere. I’m not saying that people aren’t entitled to do it, they are, but they should think of wheelchair users, mothers with buggies and the elderly.”
Bernard James said that it is a widespread problem throughout the town.
“You would go down every street but you wouldn’t want to be in a hurry,” he said. “If you had to be somewhere at 3.30pm, you’d have to give yourself plenty of time.”
When out and about, Aileen often has to take alternative routes to ensure her safety and the safety of pedestrians.
“I’m kind of a free spirit so I go out a lot – but coming up Rock Road you’re taking your life into your hands,” she said.
“The footpaths are sloped and if you meet a passer-by, they have to go out on the road. I normally go up by St Finan’s and through the hole in the wall down by Fitzgerald Stadium for the simple reason that the footpaths are more accessible.”
Both Bernard and Aileen agree that more wheelchair taxis are needed – but the biggest problem, according to Aileen, is the abuse of disabled parking spaces in the town, many taken up by large commercial bins.
The misuse of parking permits is also common place and this is a particular bone of contention for wheelchair users, they say.
“We have a very good ticket inspector now,” Aileen said. “She doesn’t take any crap. But more needs to be done.”
Killarney is hoping to position itself as the leading accessible tourism destination in Ireland but Bernard expressed concerns that certain establishments are merely ticking boxes.
“Nine out of ten hotels say that they’re wheelchair accessible and they are wheelchair accessible – up to a point,” he said.
“It depends on the size of the wheelchair. There are quite a few places in town that I can’t go into with this wheelchair. I’d be shifting the whole place to get from A to B, and I know damn well that I’d be entitled to do it, but by the time you’d get there it’d be time to go back the other way again.
“It’s the same with wheelchair bathrooms. They are, by law, doing it right and they’re covering themselves, but they’re not catering to all sizes of wheelchairs.”
Praising the work of the Killarney Access Group and the IWA, Aileen was optimistic that one day Killarney would be truly accessible for all its citizens.
“It’s a case of three steps forward and two steps back. But we’ll get there eventually.”