Including inclusivity

De Facto

EQUAL ACCESS Ramps and special wheelchair-friendly beach matting allow more people enjoy our beaches and seas. 

Developments at The Point and the old convent in Westport could do more

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

Two good news stories emerged in Westport last week – housing for the elderly at the old convent and the continued restoration work at The Point.
Both projects are most welcome in principle. However, questions arise with regard to both.

Disability access
The work at The Point has been ongoing for around two years. It’s a long time and still not finished, but it’s getting there! A lot done, more to do, kinda style.
There are two aspects of the ongoing work at The Point that need serious consideration. One is quite simple: designated parking spaces. These are reserved spaces for people with a disability. This can be done easily, quickly and without any (political) drama. One wonders why it has not happened yet.
Westport has signed up to the Barcelona Declaration, which ensures a commitment at local government level to promote inclusion of people with disabilities. The lack of designated parking at Westport Point has been an issue for the past couple of years. One wonders, apart from the Barcelona Declaration, if national and European laws are being disregarded.
The second issue of concern with the ongoing work is access to the water for people with disabilities.
A simple solution when rebuilding what were known as the Women’s Steps, is a semi-circular construction from the sea wall. This would have steps, as normal, but also a graded path alongside the steps (and wall) into the water for wheelchairs. There are many people confined to wheelchairs who would love a ‘dip.’ There are even ‘water friendly’ (rustproof) wheelchairs available. The semi-circle steps and path idea is a simple, cost-effective solution that is wholly inclusive.
On a related issue, special beach matting is also available for wheelchairs, strollers and mobility vehicles. This would be especially ideal for beaches like Bertrá, but could also be utilised at The Point. It is not expensive, easy to lay and makes a huge societal statement on beach access.
For a town that has signed up to the Barcelona Declaration adopting these developments would be most positive. The Best Place to Live for People with Disabilities would be a wonderful accolade.

Older people’s needs
The housing for older people announced for the convent site is most welcome. It comes in the wake of ongoing commentary in the press and on social media about the lack of real action at the old convent site. Mayo County Council and the Department of Education blame each other. Regardless, nothing gets done, and a centrepiece in our town is allowed to slowly decay because of inaction by statutory bodies.
A cynic may wonder if the housing announcement was timed to stave off further criticism, but the news is to be accepted and welcomed at face value for what it is. It is a good news story and has been suitably welcomed by local councillors, who have taken a lot of flak over the convent.
The issue of concern is two-fold. According to the announcement almost all are to be one-bedroomed houses. That’s fine at first glance until you ask what happens if the resident gets ill and someone must stay over. What about a live-in carer? These problems have already been encountered in other housing ventures for the elderly. Why repeat them?
Single-bedroom accommodation also limits residents’ ability to have guests. Children or grandchildren are unable to stay overnight, likewise friends. How would such a limitation affect us? Confining, or as some advocates claim, condemning older people to such limits in housing can have a negative effect on their mental health. Housing for the elderly is not a box-ticking exercise.
The other concern is that locating the housing in a secluded site could add to further isolation. It also runs the risk of being accused of creating a type of ghetto situation when that is not anyone’s intention at any level. Would a mixed housing development be more suitable?
Our national housing policy is already a mess. Vulture funds, investors and a confused government are not the solution. We have strong and able local councillors who can ensure that any development in Westport is fit for purpose. We need to encourage them.