People with personal experience of disability have been appointed to the top level of transport organisations in a bid to improve accessibility for disabled people in Ireland.
Making the announcement, Transport Minister Shane Ross said that people with disabilities have been restricted to expressing their views and needs in the media, however their voices will now be heard at the very top of state boards.
The new public appointees to the boards of Bus Eireann, Irish Rail, Dublin Bus, the CIE and the National Transport Authority were unveiled on Friday.
As directors of public transport companies, they will be on the boards which oversee the provision of the state’s transport system.
The newly appointed people are Diarmuid Corry at Bus Eireann, Suzy Byrne at Irish Rail, Elaine Howley at Dublin Bus, Kevin Kelly at the National Transport Authority and Liam O’Rourke at the CIE – subject to Cabinet approval.
I decided that no matter how well-intentioned able-bodied directors or politicians may be in seeking to remedy these difficulties, ultimately their efforts would be no substitute for the voices of people with disabilities themselves being heard in the boardroomTransport Minister Shane Ross
The Transport Minister said: “Since becoming Minister for Transport, I have heard at first hand the accounts of people with disabilities as they explained the difficulties they encounter on a daily basis in accessing public transport.
“I decided that no matter how well-intentioned able-bodied directors or politicians may be in seeking to remedy these difficulties, ultimately their efforts would be no substitute for the voices of people with disabilities themselves being heard in the boardroom.”
Ms Byrne described the “significant difficulties” people with disabilities face when using public transport systems.
“People with disabilities can’t have spontaneity in their lives, they can’t just choose to hop on a bus or a train to go somewhere, they do worry a lot,” she said.
“I have to give notice before I get on a train and I don’t find that acceptable. If able-bodied people can make decisions to get on trains and transport, then people with disabilities should have the same right.
“We need to look at complaint structures and we need to look at improving the infrastructure.
“We need to encourage people to complain and speak up for themselves and not be afraid to demand their right to use transport and to use sensible systems.”
Ms Howley said the new position will give her an opportunity to influence decisions at the highest level of the organisation of how transport strategy is developed in Ireland.
“For many years I have advocated for accessible and available transport for people with disabilities,” she said.
“People who are blind or visually impaired also rely on information about where we are and how to get around stations, so for me public announcements on all public transport is essential.
“For people with low vision, they need good signage and good colour contrast.
“There are some elements of our transport that is really good and it’s important we build on those.
“There is still work to be done to improve the system.”
Mr Kelly said: “This is a very important development for people with disabilities in Ireland.
“Unlike able-bodied people, the majority of people with disabilities depend on transport to go about our daily lives, whether that’s to work or to the shop.
“Whilst work has been done to improve the situation, we still have a situation where 50% of people with disabilities find it uncomfortable to use transport here.”
Ms Byrne added that buses should not be allowed to leave garages if they do not have a functioning ramp to allow wheelchair users and prams to access services.
She said: “Friends of mine are left stranded at bus stops and getting soaked to the skin because the bus arrives and they can’t get on because the ramp doesn’t work.
“Those are the sorts of things we need to look at.”