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Tributes paid to Newport disability access campaigner

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The late Tom Chambers is pictured with Deputy John O’Mahony and Deputy Michael Ring on a visit to Dáil Éireann.
CAMPAIGNER
?The late Tom Chambers is pictured with Deputy John O’Mahony and Deputy Michael Ring on a visit to Dáil Éireann.

Tributes paid to Newport disability access campaigner


Anton McNulty

A MAN who was not afraid to ‘call a spade a spade’ was how disability access campaigner Tom Chambers, who died after a long battle with illness over the weekend, was described.
Newport man Tom Chambers died in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, at the age of 69, where he was hospitalised for the last number of months.
Tom was confined to a wheelchair in 1981 at the age of 35 after he was involved in a car accident, which broke his spinal cord and left him paralysed from the waist down.
For over 20 years, Tom Chambers has been to the forefront of campaigns locally to improve accessibility for wheelchair users which has taken him to the Dáil and the European Parliament to lobby for change. Speaking to The Mayo News, Michael Corbett of the Disability Federation of Ireland said that Tom was never afraid to take on the powers that be to ensure accessibility was available for all.
“Tom was a person who would go that extra mile in his campaigns around accessibility and he did so for many years. He was forthright and full on and when he got a hold of a bone he would not let go. He was not afraid to take on the powers that be and there were not many people like him. Personally speaking it is sad to see him go,” he explained.
Tom lived independently for many years in his home ‘Billy’s Ranch’ on the Mulranny Road in Newport which was easily identified by the number of international flags around his garden. He was also a talented sportsman in his youth and was a keen supporter of the Mayo GAA team even though he was unable to attend Mayo matches because of what he described as the ‘terrible facilities’ at football grounds.
Former TD Dr Jerry Cowley said he was sad to hear of the passing of Tom saying that he often met with him during his period as a politician and described his approach to campaigns as ‘refreshing’.

Great campaigner
“He was a great campaigner and I brought him to the Dáil when I was there and I was glad to help him. He was a straight talker who would call a spade a spade and would not mince his words to the people he would talk to. He was not meek and it was refreshing at the time to hear that. He lived with the realities of being in a wheelchair and was a massive advocate for people with disabilities. He will certainly be missed,” he said.
Following his accident in 1981, Tom was brought to the spinal unit of Dún Laoghaire hospital where he spent nine months adjusting to his new life before being returned home. In an interview with The Mayo News in 2006, he spoke of his initial fears of being confined to a wheelchair and why he started campaigning for better facilities for wheelchair users.
“I was afraid to come out, tough and all as you feel, I was afraid of hitting things. I felt safe inside and I never thought of coming out. They prepare you to get out but they don’t prepare you for being out there. I thought everything would go wrong when I went out,” he said.
“It [campaigning] took off because I realised nothing had been done about it. I started lobbying further afield then and I felt I could be doing a bit. I set up a disability group and wrote to the papers. Now I get lots of people ringing me up asking if I could have a look at a few things to make them more accessible, and you know then you are gaining something,” he revealed.
Reposing at St Dominick’s Funeral Home, Newport on Tuesday evening (tonight) from 5.30pm with removal at 8pm to St Patrick’s Church, Newport. Funeral Mass on Wednesday at 12 noon with the funeral proceeding to Burrishoole Cemetery.