I was walking down Francis Street recently and I spotted a young man, who was in a wheelchair, struggling to wheel across the road.
He was going from side-to-side and found great difficulty in getting up onto the footpath. I offered my assistance and briefly spoke to him.
He was from Dublin and the first thing he said to me was - “Dundalk is not very wheelchair friendly”
I investigated his theory and found that he is not the only one with this view.
John Cooney, from St Nicholas Avenue, also agrees.
With the help from the Irish Wheelchair Association and John Cooney, I spent day in a wheelchair in Dundalk to see the difficulties wheelchair users face.
I imagined that I had an accident and was forced to use a wheelchair. I had not become accustomed to the chair.
I struggled immediately setting off from The Democrat office on Crowe Street. The paths are not even and I even had to get out of the chair at one stage or else I was going onto the road.
Around the corner, I toppled-over on Francis Street trying to get onto the footpath. A small dip in the road was to blame.
Once I got onto the footpath, the path on Earl Street was fine. It probably was the easiest surface to manage.
The pedestrian path at The Market Square was easy to cross, although my guide John had some reservations about this.
Clanbrassil Street was touch and go at times - very uneven and cracked paths is some of the problems I faced.
Crossing the street proved to be a nightmare. I attempted to cross the street, but I was unable to, due to a dip that has developed from traffic flows.
Although many wheelchair users learn techniques to help them get around, I imagined that I was a first time user.
My experience was not pleasant, to say the least.
“Dundalk is not wheelchair friendly,” said John Cooney, who guided me around Dundalk, “A lot needs to be done to assist wheelchair users.
“When it is dark, it’s very difficult to control the chair because you often cannot see what is ahead.
“Strangers wouldn’t have a clue how to handle the streets and footpaths here.
“It took me over a year to build up my strength and control the chair around Dundalk. It was very hard in the beginning and I still encounter many problems.
“I find the pedestrian crossing at the Market Square to be nerve wrecking. My life is at risk when I cross there. I think traffic lights should be placed there.
“A lot of the footpaths and roads should be resurfaced. We are faced with many difficulties,” John added.
Needless to say, I will remember my wheelchair experience for some time to come.