The Munster Express Tuesday, 14 June 2022yar

Inclusion and innovation at Waterford Disability Network

by Kieran Foley

It has certainly been a busy period for Waterford Disability Network which has quickly adjusted to life following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.

Waterford Disability Network is a registered charity with Jo Cregan as Chairperson and Sineàd Kilcawley as Vice-chair.

Office manager with Waterford Disability Network Seàn Rohan explains that the aim of Waterford Disability Network is to act as a voice for disability organisations in Waterford City and County. The Network does not represent one particular group but acts as an umbrella group incorporating a variety of different disabilities and is funded by Waterford City & County Council and Waterford Leader Partnership.

Much of the public work of Waterford Disability Network involves lobbying and engaging with political representatives and the local authority in order to create awareness and bring about change. These dealings usually relate to issues impacting people with ‘visible’ disabilities such as access issues for wheelchair users or street hazards for visually impaired people.

These are issues which impact people collectively, however, Waterford Disability Network also deals with people’s concerns on an individual basis. Many people contact Waterford Disability Network by phone, email and via social media in relation to a wide range of individual issues.

Waterford Disability Network held its Autism Opportunities conference on April 2nd in St. Patrick’s Gateway Centre, Waterford to coincide with International Autism Awareness Day. There were a range of speakers addressing issues facing autistic people and highlighting some of the opportunities available to them.

The speakers included representatives from four different organisations, two autistic individuals, both of whom had been diagnosed as being autistic in their early forties, plus two of Waterford’s TDs.

In an interview with this newspaper last year, Seàn and the team at Waterford Disability Network outlined their intention to expand their reach beyond Waterford City and Tramore to incorporate all of Waterford City and County.

“Many Waterford based organisations, including ourselves, are guilty of being called a Waterford organisation, including ourselves, are guilty of being called a Waterford organisation but primarily acting in Waterford City and Tramore,” said Seàn. “People in West Waterford, beyond Dungarvan, often relate better to an organisation if it has Dungarvan in the title so we’re trying to change that perception.”

Expanding their profile and reach into West Waterford remains one of the priorities for Waterford Disability Network which recently joined Dungarvan and West Waterford Chamber in addition to Waterford Chamber.

“Our mandate covers from Passage East to Youghal Bridge so we’re trying to reach as many areas of Waterford as possible,” explains Seàn.

In late April, a Disability Awareness event in Dungarvan was the first such event staged by Waterford Disability Network outside Waterford City. Again, a range of speakers gathered to discuss various issues, with many of these speeches available to view on Waterford Disability Network’s YouTube channel.

One of the main issues of concern for people with disabilities which has been brought to the fore, particularly during Covid-19, relates to transport.

“If you don’t live in a city, transport is a huge problem if you’re disabled,” says Seàn.

“Many rural areas don’t have bus services and, if they do, those buses might not be wheelchair compatible. There are a number of taxi companies that provide a service, but you have to book in advance, as you do with Iarnród Éireann.”

While some wheelchair accessible taxis are available in the city and Tramore area, Seàn says there aren’t any across the rest of the county between the city and Youghal. This presents a lack of individual freedom for wheelchair users, according to Seàn.

Meanwhile work is continuing as part of the ‘Changing Places Ireland’ campaign which promotes the inclusion of Changing Places Toilet Facilities in public places nationwide.

Changing Places Toilet Facilities are different from standard accessible toilets as they provide extra equipment like a hoist and an adult-sized changing bench.

Waterford Disability Network would like to see at least one in Waterford City and one in Dungarvan. Seàn believes the installation of such facilities would hugely benefit Waterford as people who require their use will plan their holidays based on proximity to such facilities.

“Currently, if you’re in Dublin and thinking about visiting the South-East, you wouldn’t go to Waterford, but you would go to Wexford which has such a facility,” says Seàn.

A motion brought before Waterford City & County Council in relation to installing a Changing Places Facility in Waterford was unanimously passed recently. The Council will now examine options for installing Changing Places Facilities in Waterford City and Dungarvan.

“It’s very much needed,” Says Seàn, who would also like to see the inclusion of locations such as Lismore and Ardmore.

Overall, Seàn believes Waterford is very progressive when it comes to disability matters. However, more can be done.

“We’ve had great support from local councillors from all parties and none,” he says, adding that current Mayor of Waterford City & County Council Cllr Joe Kelly has been very supportive.

He believes there is a need for greater education amongst the wider public on the challenges faced by people with disabilities, particularly in relation to parking issues.

“Certain places are no-go areas,” says Seàn. “People are usually good about avoiding disabled parking bays, but parking on footpaths is a huge issue.”

He says this is particularly problematic throughout many housing estates, resulting in wheelchair users being forced onto roadways. The growing popularity of e-scooters is also a significant concern, while dog excrement on footpaths also remains problematic.

“It’s unpleasant for anybody but especially for people who are visually impaired,” says Seàn.

Waterford Disability Network believe it’s important to reward groups which are being proactive in relation to disabilities and, with this in mind, nominations are opening for the Waterford Disability Network/InvincABLE Fitness Inclusion Award.

Entry is open to any organisation that’s voluntary and non-disability specific which can demonstrate the ways in which they have been proactive in being inclusive for people with disabilities such as sporting and drama groups, Tidy Towns, Scouts, and Girl Guides. The winner will be presented with a framed certificate and a cheque for €150.

Last year’s winner of the inaugural award was Bohemians FC in recognition of their successful Football For All programme.

An information and networking event will take place on Thursday June 30th at 7pm in The Red Hall, Lismore, hosted by Waterford Disability Network in conjunction with Surprise Surprise Dungarvan & West Waterford.

This will be the first time Waterford Disability Network has held a meeting west of Dungarvan and there will be a number of different speakers addressing different topics.

Waterford Disability Network is also currently organising a Creative Drama Workshop for children with any type of disability aged 5 – 10. This will be run by a professional with 20 plus years’ experience as a drama therapist.

Seàn would like to see more people get involved with Waterford Disability Network in various capacities.

“Many hands make light work, so we need more people to be involved with us,” he says. “Some people have joined our committee, but others bring expertise in other ways.”

Waterford Disability Network is located at Enterprise House on New Street in the city, courtesy of Waterford City & County Council.

The first monthly Waterford Disability Network Coffee Morning will be held here on Wednesday June 22nd at 10.30am. Lindsey Walsh of RARE Ireland will be present to mark National Rare Chromosome Disorders Awareness Week, but all topics are up for discussion.

“Any disability or support organisation in Waterford wishing to use our office can do so free of charge if they’re a member, and it’s only €20 a year to become a member,” explains Seàn. The services Waterford Disability Network provides to individuals, such as advice and lobbying, are free of charge. Additionally, a wide variety of information, including in relation to government policy, is provided across the Network’s social media channels.

Certainly, the Waterford Disability Network is providing an invaluable service in Waterford and will hopefully continue to be supported in its ongoing attempts to improve the lives of everyone in the locality with disabilities.

For more information on Waterford Disability Network, visit, email, call 089-4753132 or check out Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @WaterfordDN

Enterprise House,

New St, Waterford,

X91 YN7X

TEL: 051-873854

MOB: 089-4753132

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