International Disabled Persons Day marked in Clonakilty

LAST Saturday, December 3rd was United Nations International Day of People with Disabilities, which was established in 2006 to promote, protect and ensure the rights of all people with disabilities and promotes their equal rights in all areas of life.

Members of The COPE Foundation and the Clonakilty Access Group as well as Mayor Anthony McDermott, Mons. Aidan O’ Driscoll, PP and several members of the general public – both able bodied and those with disabilities attended an event at Asna Square, Clonakilty to publicly mark the day. Explanation leaflets, which also listed the contact details of the local disability support organisations were distributed to passers-by.

Kate Bielska, who works at COPE Clogheen welcomed all and thanked everyone for attending. She explained the reason for the gathering was to promote awareness of disabled people in the community – and the challenges they face in Clonakilty town at times. She pointed out that there were a number of empty wheelchairs present and invited able-bodied people attending to take the “Wheelchair Challenge” later on.

Mayor Anthony McDermott congratulated the organisers on the event saying that as far as he was aware Clonakilty was the only place in Ireland marking International Day of People with Disabilities.

Maria Coomey, a client of COPE spoke of the need to make all places accessible for all people.

Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin, founding member of Clonakilty Access Group spoke of the history of the voluntary organisation since it was established about 20 years ago to promote and campaign for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities in terms of accessing the public space on streets, footpaths, parks, etc. as well as public buildings such as churches, the library, etc.  He outlined how many positive things were achieved in the initial years in co-operation with the then town council. However, there are still issues of inaccessibility that prevent or inhibit some people with disabilities from accessing places and areas that able-bodies people can.

He pointed out that in many cases, there are very simple and low-cost or no-cost solutions. The Access Group wished to be positive but would always advocate strongly on behalf of its members and the general disabled population and visitors to the town. The ultimate objective of the Access Group is to work with the council, business community to make Clonakilty the most accessible and welcoming town in Ireland for people with disabilities. 90% of the time all we need is awareness by able-bodied people and decision-makers to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t discriminated against, he concluded.

Around 10 people then took on the wheelchair challenge in which they went on wheelchairs to five different locations from Asna Square and returned. Most of the participants had never sat on a wheelchair before.

The destinations were: The Library; Catholic Church; Post Office; Clonakilty Hotel and Harte’s Spar Supermarket.

When they returned to Asna Square, they reported that while there were some positive experiences, there were also a range of challenges that confronted them, which included advertising signs on footpaths; uneven footpath surfaces; gradients on some footpaths; bins left out on footpaths; dog droppings; children running against wheelchairs and inaccessible footpath due to no “dishing”. Illegal parking also created problems for some.

The findings will now be collated and sent to the County Council authorities, (who have been made aware previously of many of the same issues experienced by participants in last Saturday’s wheelchair challenge).

John Greene of the popular “Where the road takes me” programme on C103 was also present and spoke with many of the people present and the programme is due to go out on air at 7pm this Sunday evening 11th. After the event all enjoyed coffee at O’ Donovan’s Hotel.

Further information on Clonakilty Access Group Facebook and Twitter pages (both ClonAccessGroup), and COPE Foundation Facebook page.