Trains, planes and automobiles, guest blogger Declan Groeger looks at transport and access for people with a disability.

It all started with the invention of the wheel about 6,000 years ago and the development of modes of transport has continued apace ever since. With each passing generation, the ability to travel became easier for most people but those living with a disability were overlooked, the forgotten minority as if they didn’t matter.

People living with a disability often had/have difficulty getting on with life outside the home; the forgotten, neglected minority!  This has changed dramatically over the years with accessible transport now ‘readily’, but not universally, available. The ability to attend medical appointments or get to work on time was, and still is, often confounded by an inadequate transport system.

The global pandemic that struck earlier this year  has caused us to rethink things and some of these changes are of major benefit to so many people. Many people are now working from home, we learned about home-schooling and online college lectures; we learned how to do more without leaving the comfort and safety of our homes. We have learned about virtual art gallery tours, virtual wildlife parks and virtual city tours to name a few but regardless of what has changed and what we have learned to do differently transport will remain an important part of life’s equation.

 Service providers learned to adapt and provide many of their services in the users own homes; MS Ireland provide physiotherapy and yoga online, doctors have learned how to consult without a hands-on face-to-face meeting.  We have learned to shop online with home delivery available. Meetings and conferences now take place courtesy of Zoom or other online technology. I will be attending the European Multiple Sclerosis Platform (EMSP) conference from the comfort of my own home which was originally scheduled for Barcelona in November.

However, many things cannot be done online such as MRI scans, Xrays and Blood Tests and in any case, not everybody can avail of online services for a variety of reasons and these people must not be forgotten. Leave no one behind. The need for transport remains. Regardless of what is available online, we do now and always will require transport. We need to get to work, medical appointments, the shops, go on holidays, get our children to school or visit our grandchildren. We are social animals and we need to socialize, socially distant of course.

There is no ‘best’ way to travel. Each mode of travel has positives and negatives. A car isn’t restrained by inflexible timetables and routes like a train or bus but it does have ongoing expenses after the hefty initial purchase price. Bus and train are pay-per-use or free to qualifying users but lack the flexibility of door-to-door such as a car or a taxi. A taxi is pay-per-use and offers door-to-door and no timetable or route inflexibility but accessible taxis are not always available and may be expensive.  

Independence is much talked about, it is a prized commodity and protected with as much vigour as we can muster. I, mistakenly, held the belief that my independence was directly related to my ownership of a car, my ability to drive, my ability to come and go as I pleased. I was wrong but having a car and the ability to drive adds one ingredient to the independence mix that no other mode of transport can; spontaneity, the ability to undertake an outing at short notice, on a whim if you like, although for those of us living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) spontaneity is in short supply at the best of times.

Living with a disability is never easy and some disabilities make life extremely difficult particularly when planning to travel whether it’s home or abroad.