My name is Edward Leonard and am 18 years old from Roscommon. I have been in a wheelchair practically all my life due to having a severely curved spine. I live a pretty normal life: go to school; go football matches and can go from one place to another without major difficulty.
Unfortunately, there have been times when I have had faced challenges as a result of being in a wheelchair. One of those times is while attending football matches. I love football just as much as the next person and am a regular attendee at Roscommon matches and matches involving my local club, St. Brigid’s. I’m lucky that St. Brigid’s grounds have a designated wheelchair area that is designed for people in wheelchairs. But the same cannot be said for Roscommon’s county grounds Dr Hyde Park. In recent years, there has been an area set aside for wheelchair users but is basic to say the least. The designated area is at the bottom row of the stand which is uncovered. I’m not saying that is a terrible thing but when you see all the able-bodied people rushing up to the covered section of the stand it does not make you feel as if you are different from everyone else.
Many GAA grounds do not have adequate designated wheelchair areas. Some do not have sheltered areas, some are away from the rest of the supporters while some do not exist or are ineffective. This has been a great struggle for me for years as I often have to arrive very early to guarantee that I get a space in case there are more wheelchairs than spots available. If you end up not getting a space, wheelchair users are often put on the side line. Not only is this dangerous but would not be expected of any other spectator.
Other times that I have faced challenges would be simply going down the street. For an able-bodied person walking on the streets, rough ground does not really affect them but I have often had to go off the path and on to the main road, which is difficult as it may not be possible to find a way off the path that is safe. Likewise, if there is an obstacle on the path it can be difficult to get past. I have had to ask people to either move the obstacles, which generally are bins left out by business owners, or go off the path and on to the main road in order to bypass the bins.
There needs to be better awareness to able-bodied people that their actions can affect the lives of disabled people. The ratification of the UN Convention of Rights for People with Disabilities will allow for disabled people to be more equal in society and to have a more active role in sporting clubs, groups and in politics.