The western district meeting, Going Places - Access to Transport, was attended by over 70 people in Strabane on 10 September 2012. The meeting gave people with a learning disability, their families and carers an opportunity to have their say on transport issues.
There was the opportunity at the meeting to put questions and issues to a panel which was chaired by Brian Ambrose, the co-chair of Mencap’s Northern Ireland Committee. The panel included:
- Paddy McEldowney, Manager of local community transport provider Easilink
- Michaela Boyle MLA, Sinn Fein
- Tom Buchanan MLA, DUP
- Kellie Armstrong, Director of the Community Transport Association
- Terry Butler, Access Manager for Translink
- Maureen Piggot, Director of Mencap in Northern Ireland.
Issues raised with the panel included the impact of cuts in funding to community transport, difficulties faced by wheelchair users in accessing public transport, transport costs and options being linked to where people live, problems with young people accessing the transport once they leave school.
The Department of Regional Development, Department of Employing and Learning, Department of Education, and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety need to work together to resolve difficulties people with a learning disability have accessing transport. Local MLAs, Michaela Boyle and Tom Buchanan agreed to raise these issues on the floor of the Assembly.
At the meeting a man with a learning disability talked about how the changes in the transport system had meant that he was faced with a bill of over £200 per week to cover taxi fares to South West College in Omagh. Fortunately this situation was resolved when his college, community transport provider, Easilink and Mencap met to discuss the issue. Using Community Transport to get to and from college, he now pays significantly less for his transport.
Mencap has produced transport factsheets to give people with a learning disability the information they need when making decisions around transport.
Jenny Ruddy, NI Mencap’s campaigns officer, said, “A lack of access to transport denies people with a learning disability a basic level of independence, choice and opportunity that many of us take for granted. Transport is an important issue for people with a learning disability, particularly those living in rural areas. I very much welcome the fact that Michaela Boyle and Tom Buchanan agreed to raise transport issues on the floor of the Assembly."