Wheelchair accessible bench idea not anti-homeless, says councillor

Galway Fine Gael councillor Clodagh Higgins faced a  backlash online after she tweeted a picture of a bench which has the middle seat removed to make way for a wheelchair
Wheelchair accessible bench idea not anti-homeless, says councillor

Galway councillor Clodagh Higgins said the accusation she was anti-homeless was 'a slur'.

A Galway City councillor has described suggestions that her proposal for wheelchair accessible benches were anti-homeless as "a slur".

Fine Gael councillor for the Salthill area Clodagh Higgins tweeted a picture of a bench which has the middle seat removed to make way for a wheelchair. She said she had brought the request to the council on foot of representations from families of children with additional needs. 

However, the response online was that the benches were hostile to homeless people as they would not allow rough sleepers lie down on them.

Ms Higgins said this accusation was "a slur", telling the Irish Examiner: "I have nothing further to say save that some on Twitter wrongly associated a position with me which is so far from the truth that it is misleading and amounts to a slur.

"For the purposes of clarity, my proposal came about as a result of parents with disabled children contacting me to advocate for this infrastructure."

Joan Carthy, national advocacy manager with the Irish Wheelchair Association, which has its own guidelines for accessibility of open areas, said for street furniture like benches, it is "more important to have a flat piece of ground at one end".

Ms Carthy said that there are many things which can and should be examined by local authorities such as footpaths, drop-down kerbs and ensuring pedestrianisation of streets for the summer does not come at the exclusion of wheelchair users.

Journalist and wheelchair user Louise Bruton said she felt the use of accessibility to justify the benches was "insulting".

"It would be a very uncomfortable sitting arrangement, they wouldn't be level with their friends and it wouldn't be easy to have a conversation. The picnic tables [which extend the table but not the bench] are great, that's the thinking that's needed. You're literally giving people a seat at the table.

"If councils are going to spend money, there are more things that people who use wheelchairs think about every day – uneven paths, not being able to get off kerbs, access to toilets and streets. They should be thought of first."

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