Lets Have a Cup of Tea

By Kiara Lynch

When I was thinking about writing this article, I wondered what did all the inhabitants of this country have in common and of course it didn’t take long - Tea – we all make a cup of tea everyday.

I’m a wheelchair user and I was thinking about the difference between me and able bodied people, making a cup of tea, and you know what there are some big differences.

What an able bodied person does to make tea: boil the kettle, walk to the fridge, reach in, take out the milk, walk to the press, reach in and get a mug, walk back to the counter, make the tea, pick it up and walk wherever you wish.

What I do to make a cup of tea (keep in mind, in order to wheel myself I need to use my two hands): boil the kettle, take the milk out of the fridge put it between my knees and wheel to the kettle, hoping the milk doesn’t spill because if it does it’s going all over my lap, so assuming it doesn’t spill, I put the milk on the counter, make a cup of tea – now what do I do? I have two options: put my brakes on sit there by the counter and drink my tea or put the hot tea mug between my legs and wheel myself to wherever I want to have my tea.

What if you had no milk for that tea!! For arguments sake we’ll say you live a hundred yards from the corner shop, your house being on the right-hand side of the road and the shop on the left.

For an able bodied person: grab your wallet and keys, walk the hundred yards on the footpath in less than two minutes, step off the footpath, cross the road, walk to the shop door and open it, walk to the fridge, reach for the milk, walk to the checkout, pay for the milk, walk the hundred yards to your house, walk to your kitchen, open the milk and pour it into your mug. The boiling water is probably still warm and you don’t even need to boil the kettle again for a fresh mug.

What I’d have to do under the exact same circumstances:

Grab my wallet and keys put them in my pocket, wheel the hundred yards on the footpath in about two minutes, wheel off the footpath (if I’m lucky enough to find a dip in the footpath I can actually get off, which I probably won’t, so I have go find a way off the footpath), cross the road, wheel to the shop (hopefully there isn’t a step or a big door lip), open the door try and hold it and wheel inside, wheel to the fridge (hopefully the aisles aren’t too narrow or packed with items and I can wheel down the aisles), open the fridge door and hold it open while you reach for the milk (hopefully I can reach it), wheel to the check out (hopefully I can reach up to the counter and don’t have to wrestle to get the milk up on the counter), pay for the milk, wheel to the door open it and wheel out, cross the road, wheel to the footpath, try to find a proper dip so I can get myself up on the footpath (near to impossible to find in this country), get onto the footpath, wheel the hundred yards to my house, wheel to my kitchen, open the milk and I can guarantee the mug of water is stone cold by now!

I know what your thinking, wouldn’t it be so much easier to just ask someone to make the tea or to get the milk for me, but why should I? I’m quite capable of making a cup of tea or wheeling to the shop, why isn’t there a law that all shop doors must be automatic and accessible? I’m a member of the public and isn’t that who shops are there to service? Generally, people are very nice and helpful if you ask someone would hold the door open for you, or help you onto a footpath or reach something on a high shelf for you, my point is why should I have to ask? Why should I have to depend upon the kindness of strangers for something as ridiculously simple as getting milk? There is plenty I simply can’t do and must ask for help but something so incredibly achievable is still such so out of reach for me.

Yes, things are improving, but incredibly slowly, Dublin Bus being made wheelchair accessible, excellent if you live in Dublin, what about the other 25 counties? How long do we have to wait? Yes the country is trying to make an effort to incorporate wheelchair users, and of course I accept making certain places wheelchair accessible is just not possible, there isn’t money to suddenly make everything perfectly accessible overnight, but you try going to ten different shops and not being able to get into one, that should not be acceptable. Why not try something radical such as doing things right when you’re going to the expense of doing them anyway, why not try listening to the people you’re aiming to facilitate. Why bother asking advocacy groups or wheelchair users for their thoughts and recommendations, when you are not going to listen to them. I know this much – if you don’t start listening things will never change, and it needs to.

Why have the Government the right to decide that because I’m a wheelchair user I can’t be independent? They spend billions every year on new roads and new services for ‘members of the Irish Public’ – are wheelchair users not members of the public? Am I not a member of the public because I can’t walk? Why can’t they incorporate wheelchair users as members of the public for whom they are introducing these new services for? Not one new ‘ Bus Eireann’ bus is wheelchair accessible because ‘ it wasn’t feasible’ why not? They can do it in Europe, Australia and America but we as a Country in the midst of a huge economic boom, we cannot afford to make public buses wheelchair accessible? If we don’t start doing it now it’ll be another generation of wheelchair users, including myself, being left behind because no-one had the foresight to include us. I’ve been asking these questions for years and getting fobbed off. I did some research on the disability bill, it doesn’t offer any rights to a wheelchair user, nothing about accessibility, so I decided to write to my local Fianna Fail TD Peter Kelly outlining my objections. He wrote back telling me ‘he’d voice my objections’, after a week I received another letter from Mr Kelly informing me that enclosed was a letter he received from Mr Brian Cowen TD, Minister for Finance, in response to my objections. Mr Cowen said ‘I wish to acknowledge receipt of your recent letter, I will be in contact with you again about this matter as soon as possible’. That was the 14th March 2005, the Disability Bill was passed three weeks ago and I have not heard a word from either of them.

No more, the joke of the Disability Bill being passed was the last straw, I won’t be quiet, I won’t accept it, I won’t wait and hope the government wake up, I want answers and you should too - this is your country, do you want to see people’s rights trampled upon merely because they can’t walk? From the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 21 (2): ‘Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country’.

So, Mr Ahern I put it to you, try living as a wheelchair user, and not something as simple as using a wheelchair for a day in Dublin, try and carry out your life as it is now for one month, all the time using a wheelchair, which means constantly no walking, yet working and socializing. Find rental ‘wheelchair accessible accommodation’ for one month. I can see how many barriers you’ll have to face in that month but Mr Ahern this is what I have to deal with everyday for the rest of my life, apparently the government expect wheelchair users to have the same standards of living as the general public, I’d like to hear your thoughts on that after the month.

I can accept things take me longer are harder more awkward, I’ve come to terms with that, but what I and every other wheelchair user in this country should not accept is the things that can be changed to make our lives easier. How much would it take to put proper dips on and off footpaths, and I don’t mean the effort currently being made by county councils (who leave a lip so big that they may as well not have bothered, if I could step onto the footpath I would not need a dip in the footpath), not to mention the complete lack of enforcing accessibility laws on new and old buildings alike.

I’m not saying we’re the worst country, but I feel like I’m being forgotten and left behind just because I’m a wheelchair user and I want some acknowledgement that yes, my country’s government will try harder and will make an effort to give me the same chances as everyone else.

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