A disability for a day: 'I felt like a hindrance'
Eoghan Donoghue tries being disabled for a day in Dublin's city centre. photograph: cyril byrne
Three volunteers had their mobility, vision and hearing restricted for a tough day in Dublin.
Christine McGuinness’s first difficulty was when she tried to pay for a Luas fare on a touch-screen machine. “I almost bought a ticket for €75.” She had just learned her first lesson in what it’s like to be blind.
McGuinness (21) has perfect vision, and is one of three “able-bodied” people who recently spent a day learning what life is like for people with disabilities on the streets of central Dublin.
They altered their sight, hearing or mobility and attempted to carry out everyday tasks with an assistant at their side. Routes were planned so they had to interact with people, cross the Liffey and go through busy and quiet streets.
McGuinness knew the day would be challenging. “Of course it’s going to be difficult,” she said. “I don’t know what to expect, how to walk and to be trusting someone else.”
Christine McGuinness’s sister Dorothy, who assisted her, received training from Fiona Kelty of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland.
Without the training, Dorothy says, she “would have done it completely wrong. I would have thought of leading her and holding her, rather than her holding me. [Fiona Kelty] pointed out that when you approach a blind person, you forget that they can’t see you, and you shout at them, asking to help, and you startle them.”
Eoghan Donoghue (25), who is studying medicine, navigated the city centre in a wheelchair, with help from his friend, Jonathan Clarke. “I like to do things myself,” says Donoghue. “I wouldn’t normally, being male, ask for help.”
Mick Power (32), a musician, had his hearing altered by industrial headphones, and was accompanied by his girlfriend, Louise Callan.
On Jervis Street, Christine McGuinness, now blindfolded, used touch to gauge where she was. “I had a bit of a problem crossing the road but I felt the button at the pedestrian crossing and the bubbles on the ground.” Dorothy McGuinness points out that these “bubbles”, which alert visually-impaired pedestrians of road crossings, would also help with staircases in public places. “[If I hadn’t been there] she could’ve walked right off a step because there was no mat or anything to warn you.”
Christine noticed that when she addressed shop assistants, they would often respond to her sister. “They should have some standard training on just how to understand their customers.”
Eoghan Donoghue’s day in a wheelchair was filled with physical perseverance. Clarke didn’t have to assist too much but says that in Temple Bar – “a nightmare” – Donoghue would have been stuck without him.
At one point, their path was blocked by bin bags. These were cleared away but only a few yards further on, they stumbled on a mattress. Blocked pathways are a frequent occurrence in the quarter, and the cobbled roads are a serious challenge. “The most difficult thing was definitely the cobblestones. And the rocking motion. I felt they would catch the front wheels or that I’d fall back,” says Donoghue.
He was self-conscious, especially in places with more people traffic, such as one city-centre supermarket, where aisles with displays were a problem.
“It was barely wide enough for the wheelchair so I felt like I was going to knock things off the shelf,” he says. “There would be people coming towards you and you’d be apologising all the time. People were trying to move around quickly and I wasn’t the quickest so I just felt like I was getting in people’s way. I felt like a hindrance.” Clear signage and wide paths make supermarkets easier to negotiate.