Paralympian says Limerick needs better wheelchair welcome

James McCarthy
Limerick paralympian James McCarthy

LIMERICK two time Paralympic Athlete, sports coach and wheelchair user James McCarthy said there are changes needed to make his home town a place where wheelchair users feel welcomed.

Newly-wed, James said improvements to pavements in town, car parking and more automatic doors on shops would make life easier for the wheelchair user.

“There are some pieces of pavement sticking up or there are holes in others, this can be treacherous for a person with a wheelchair especially if town is very busy or in the darker evenings.

“When parking, sometimes there is a pole beside the stop indicating it’s a wheelchair zone, the thing is, this pole can prevent you getting the wheelchair out especially if it is in the back seat.

“I am thinking more of the person who is pushing the wheelchair rather than the user themselves. It can be hard for a person with a pram at times and prams are generally lighter than many wheelchairs.

“Getting into shops can be quite easy, the egress can be tricky at times. There are some places I don’t visit and I’d only go to others on certain days to avoid the crowds,” said James.

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James said that while not everywhere is fully accessible, there is a very big choice of places to visit and that staff are much better at dealing with people in wheelchairs.

“Rarely does the person with me get asked ‘will this be ok for him?’, instead I get asked what suits you best? There is minimal fuss made and rarely are other customers, especially in restaurants discommoded. This stops you getting the ‘dirty looks’ for the rest of your meal and therefore you can sit back and relax,” said James.

A civil servant, driving since the early 90s, James said having wheelchair designated parking spaces painted blue does help with clearly identifying a wheelchair blue badge holder parking space, but fining people for misusing the wheelchair parking spot is definitely a deterrent.

“People are definitely more conscious of not parking in the wheelchair spot. Some people, if challenged, will just continue on as if there is no issue. Alternatively, the amount of times I get told ‘oh I will be just 5 minutes I have to just pick something up’ would make me rich if I was getting a €1 for every time I hear it,” said James.

James said people have become accustomed to seeing people with wheelchairs around town and so are more mindful of not standing in the middle of footpaths

“If you can go to more places, then, more people will go to them. No longer are people staring at you. Perhaps seeing what team Ireland athletes in Rio or London did makes people more aware of the ability rather than the disability,” added James.

James McCarthy
Limerick paralympian James McCarthy

Having retired from athletics in 2013, James has been coaching since and was part of the coaching team for the Irish Team that competed in the World Juniors in Czech Republic in 2017.

“I would encourage, where possible, anybody to get involved in sport or recreation. It has certainly helped me live a longer and healthier life than might have been the case. It gets me out and about, I’ve travelled the globe and I have met some wonderful people and made some terrific friends. Sport has also given me a confidence to overcome and to be determined and this in turn has helped me in my day to day living and in my job,” added James.

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