On Tuesday 26th February, there was Disability Awareness in the South West morning at Strule Arts Centre in Omagh. This event was organized by My Way Access and Omagh Access Forum’s Chairperson Dermot Devlin and Omagh Chamber of Commerce’s Bronagh Gormley.
The event began by speaks from:
Joanne McDonald from Mencap NI
Bronagh Gormley from Omagh Chamber
Dermot Devlin from My Way Access
Aaron McKee from Transport For All
Dr. Michael Wardlow, the Chief Commissioner from the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland.
Afterwards there was a Q and A session.
It was excellently chaired by Katherine McElroy from Leonard Cheshire Northern Ireland.
In December last year, Dermot attended a ECNI event in Belfast and found that everything spoken about was Belfast centric and that the South West was forgotten about again, so he invited Dr. Wardlow to Omagh to speak to the disability community in the area.
The event covered issues such as living with a learning disability in a rural area and how that impacts on daily life and social inclusion; how businesses and disability interest groups can come together and work for a more accessible town; how businesses needs to be aware of the Purple Pound and how it is discrimination to ignore the Persons With Disability population, which is 19.5% and how public transport is imbalance in rural areas like the West and possible legal act could be required as it is discriminatory. The audience asked such question regarding mental health issues and providing quiet areas in shops for autism.
Dr. Wardlow took a lot of what was said onboard and will take back to the Equality Commission to see what support can be provided for people in the South West.
Afterwards, Dermot and Bronagh met councillors, MLAs and MEPs from various parties in the South West, plus Lynn McKinley the Chairperson of Omagh Town Centre Forum and took them for a tour around Omagh to see what obstacles people with disabilities face on a daily basis. The political representatives were placed into wheelchairs, mobility scooters and sensory goggles to place themselves in their shoes for 90 minutes.
The were taken around Market Street, High Street, Old Market Place, Bridge Street, Scaffres Entry, Foundry Lane, John Street, James Street and Castle Street to see what people with disabilities face. On route, we saw badly parked cars, building work, which was difficult to navigate, and signage on footpaths. On a few occasions, the politicians had to travel on the roads to get from A to B as other routes were blocked.
As a bonus, Dermot showed them the inaccessible issues at Omagh Bus Depot and OASIS Plaza.
Afterwards, the representatives expressed a new understanding what people like Dermot and Hetty have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. They had a big list of issues they saw and have promised to take them back to the council and chamber of commerce to fix. It was also appreciated that the work required can be fixed easily, when there is a willingness, which they now have and understand.
Photos by Michael Clarke Photography.