CREATING a safer, more accessible county where people with disabilities can live fully independent lives is one of the key aims of County Carlow Universal Access Movement (CUAM). The ambitious group brings together the various agencies working in the area of disabilities and their service users to create awareness around the issue of access and to develop greater access right across the county.
“Sight is very complex; it’s not a question of I can see this and then I can’t,” explained Judith Martin of the NCBI, which is also a member of CUAM. “Ninety-five percent of people who have a visual impairment have some residual vision, but there are difficulties like depth perception or distinguishing kerbing,” she added.
Font size on menus or signs, negotiating crossings safety, obstacles such as bins or signage, overhanging branches and cars parked on footpaths all create hazardous obstacles for the visually-impaired person and access difficulties for wheelchair users.
Karl Duffy of CUAM outlined some of the groups involved, including Carlow Older Persons Forum, the Irish Wheelchair Association, Cairdeas, CASES, ETB Carlow Mental Health Association, County Carlow Development Partnership and Carlow County Council among the members.
“It’s access in a physical sense, but also access to services like education or something that’s relevant at the moment: exercising their democratic right to vote. Some people can’t even get access into their polling stations,” said Karl.
“There needs to be more awareness of the needs of people who are challenged in various ways,” explains Karl, adding that some big advances had been made across the county in recent years, but there are still more to be done.
“The council has invited us to be part of a discussion surrounding a new app that’s currently being developed called ‘Carlow Access’, which will look at locations and rate shops and businesses in terms of access. It will have a knock-on effect and will be a challenge for everyone, but it’s also a reward for excellence,” stated Karl.
Both Judith and Karl spoke about the importance of engaging with council engineers and developers to ensure universal access is considered as part of their various projects.
“We do have very good engagement with the council engineers. I understand they are very much swayed by budgets, but they will ask and listen to our suggestions and have made changes based on what we’ve asked,” explained Judith.
“I know there has been a lot of talk about the bridge in Tullow, but from our perspective there has been really good thinking around the work there and really good engagement with the engineer in terms of directional paving and tactile paving,” she added.
“With the development of Shamrock Plaza, I have to say that Monaco Properties bent over backwards to work with us,” said Judith, noting the use of directional paving and even placing the distinctive statue on a raised plinth to remove the potential hazard for the visually impaired.
“That’s what we really want – for businesses to come to us and ask us what will make things better. We are delighted to work with them and offer our advice,” she said.