“The problem in Ireland is that we have accessible buses, it’s just we don’t have accessible bus stops”

By Sorcha Rose McGroarty

Matthew Sharkey is a 21 year old university student studying Multimedia in DCU, and is currently active in University life. He attends social events weekly and works hard to maintain his grades, hangs out with friends and works on multimedia projects outside of his studies. 

Sharkey is also one of the hundreds of people in Ireland living day to day with a physical disability. Matthew has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a disability that leaves him in a wheelchair requiring aid to complete tasks such as eating, drinking and putting himself to bed. 

Despite the struggles he faces day to day, he works hard everyday to be active in his community, volunteering in multiple university society positions while also being an advocate for the disabled. 

Unfortunately for Matthew he struggles to get to class due to the inaccessibility in public transport. For able bodied students travelling the same route as Matthew from Dorogheda to DCU it’s as simple as taking the Bus Eireann 101 or 101X to Whitehall, a bus stop a 10 minute walk from campus. However in Matthews case the only accessible bus stops on this route are the one in the Drogheda bus station and the final stop, in BusAras. 

“The problem in Ireland is that we have accessible buses, it’s just we don’t have accessible bus stops.”

The issues lies in the width of the bus stops themselves, while the buses have ramps to allow a wheelchair user to board the bus, the bus stops themselves are not wide enough for a wheelchair to use the ramp. 

“The only bus that I can get on that goes near Dublin from where I live is the 103X which goes from a local village called Duleek.”

For Matthew to be able to avail of public transport to go to college, it would mean getting the 103X from Duleek and taking it to the BusAras bus stop or getting a train to Connolly station, and then getting a Dublin bus to DCU.

“A lot of the times it’s when they’re building the bus stop they build it on a certain part of the footpath, and it isn’t wide enough for a ramp to go down, but instead of just widening the footpath they just don’t put the route online as accessible.”

The route from Drogheda to Whitehall takes an hour and ten minutes however Matthew says for him to use a wheelchair accessible route to get to college it could take upwards of two hours, time he simply does not have due to his condition. 

The issue lies further rooted in issues with the ramps on buses and the frequency they break down. 

“And then multiple times a bus ramp wont work, a bus lift wont work and then you’re stuck and you have to figure out something else.”

According to Matthew this is a frequent issue for him. In order to be able to maintain a healthy social life and spend time with his friends he requires the use of public transportation. He uses Dublin bus in particular frequently during the college year.

“There was one day where I was with my friends, going bowling, and I had to get a bus back by myself to dcu. The first bus that came along, the ramp wouldn’t work and the bus driver said to me, ‘I know it wouldn’t work but I had to try anyway’ so then I had to wait for the next bus…I’ve had that problem a lot.”

For Matthew the wait time between his buses can leave him in considerable pain due to his disability. It also leaves him a lack of spontaneity in his life as he cannot make plans last minute due to his issues with public transportation. 

“There is a severe lack in allowing people with disabilities to be spontaneous, we always have to plan stuff in advance and plant it meticulously, and make sure this bus is accessible  and make sure this train is accessible and make sure this lift isn’t broken, make sure that there’s somebody gonna be there if anything happens”

He also notes that like himself, many disabled people feel deeply anxious when it comes to planning these routes due to the lack of certainty that they will make it to their destination safely. Matthew can never be sure that if a bus breaks down or a lift is not working that he will be able to find another way home. 

“Sometimes I travel by myself and you’re always worrying if something will go wrong, what will I do… I think it’s a lack on the government and the transport authorities on thinking of people with disabilities”

The accumulation of these issues has left Matthew in a position where he is forced to get taxis to and from college to be able to attend his classes. While these are paid for by grants provided to DCU the money to hire a taxi can only be used for academic purposes, leaving Matthew stranded at home during the summer months. 

“I want to be independent by myself… I wouldn’t mind taking a bus from my local bus station to Dublin but I can’t”

During the covid-19 lockdowns in Ireland, many people experienced severe consequences on their mental health due to the social isolation, however for the disabled community this is unfortunately a regular occurance. 

“It makes me feel excluded from my community.”

While Matthew faces these issues he continues to find alternative ways to socialise. He invites friends from long distances away to his own home, calls them to maintain connections and plays video games to tackle the issues associated with the isolation he faces in the summer months. 

While Matthew is only one person in the 2016 census it was reported that there were 643,131 people in Ireland living with a disability. With such a large community it is no surprise that there are advocates like Matthew speaking up for the masses and demanding change in our country. 

“I really don’t know why it’s such a big problem in 2023 in a country like ireland.”

The National Transport Authority and the National Advocacy service were both asked for comment on this article however neither party provided one.

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