Victoria Matthew is currently finishing a business administration course with the Education and Training Board in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, and hopes to move on to Sligo IT in September.
However, the mature student’s plans have been complicated by the fact that the Bus Éireann service by which she would travel to her course in applied sports and business is unable to accommodate wheelchairs.
Local Link services in her area and an Ulster Bus service to Enniskillen are fully wheelchair compatible, with a low-floor and roll-on accessibility, she says. But the Sligo service is not accessible due to a lack of “bus stop infrastructure” including a platform to lift a wheelchair aboard.
Ms Matthew’s travel problem is not unique, with a new report by Rehab showing that 90 per cent of people with disabilities find transport options inadequate.
The report, published on Thursday to coincide with the first anniversary of the State’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, notes that the Irish bus network was to have been fully accessible by 2015 as part of a plan to fully implement the Disability Act 2005.
However, Bus Éireann’s website says that “due to funding constraints, the sectoral plan has been somewhat delayed”.
The bus company says 86 per cent of the vehicles in its fleet are wheelchair accessible. Services in cities and towns are fully wheelchair accessible and the coach fleet that operates on Commuter and Expressway routes is 78 per cent accessible, it says.
Responsibility for the “bus stop infrastructure” problem facing Ms Matthew rests with the National Transport Authority (NTA) and local authorities, Bus Éireann said. Minister for Transport Shane Ross has said his responsibility is policy when it comes to access for people with disabilities and that implementation of this was a matter for the NTA.
The NTA said it was working with local authorities to roll out bus stop infrastructure including platforms and shelters to make the stops suitable for people with disabilities. It said it had become aware of Ms Matthew case recently and was looking into the matter.
Ms Mathew said in the three weeks since she started to highlight the inadequacy of the service, “lots of people have said ‘what do you mean, buses are not accessible in this day and age?’”
She has started a petition calling for fully accessible services throughout rural Ireland that has received more then 4,500 signatures so far.
“There are a lot of organisations campaigning for disability rights. I want them all to join me in this petition, to unite Ireland in gaining equality for everyone,” she said.
Kathleen O’Meara, director of communications with Rehab Group, said a “two-tier system” has been created in the State with “those who can afford a car and the necessary adaptations, and those left isolated”.
“This is not good enough and is happening despite numerous legal undertakings both nationally and at EU level, to make access equal,” she said.