Make Way Day, on on September 25th, is a national public awareness campaign that highlights the need for all members of society and the community to consider the needs of people with disabilities within the public spaces that we all use and share. The initiative is led by the Disability Federation of Ireland, who collaborate with many voluntary community groups and is supported by all Local Authorities in Ireland. “Hey, this blocks my way!” is the message.

We each move within our public spaces, in very different ways. Streets are for people, and that means all people of all abilities. As part of campaign, The Disability Federation of Ireland highlight that “thoughtlessness is the big issue”. They list the top three of obstacles that create barriers for people with disabilities in their tracks including

  1. Cars parked on footpaths
  2. Bicycles illegally parked
  3. Bins left on footpaths

As part of work on the Green-Schools Travel and Global Citizenship Travel flags, students learn about sustainable and active travel, as well as how we can make better and equal opportunities for all members of society to share our public spaces. Audits are carried out by participating schools together with their regional Travel Officer. Students have an opportunity to highlight the barriers to towards mobility and active travel and can propose recommendations to Local Authorities where they feel improvements can be made.

As part of the Global Citizenship Travel theme, students focus their learning on four of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, two of which are SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities and SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities. There is a great opportunity for student-led citizenship to recognise the inequalities faced by many vulnerable road and street users and raise awareness of how we can together develop sustainable cities and communities which are inclusive for all members of society to move freely through.

Green-Schools Travel Officer Jessica Salas reflects on her experience as a Travel Officer, during a recent walkability audit.

A walkability audit is an essential step in the Green-Schools Travel programme to measure how friendly any area is to walk in. Some things we see are cracks in a footpath as a negative or a pelican crossing as a positive. One thing we see no matter the location, is cars parked on the footpath. Typically, when this happens, I point it out and the students and I step off the footpath and walk around the car. It’s annoying but does not require us to reroute our journey.  This is a privilege that we often take for granted. On one walkability audit when this happened a student who uses an electric wheelchair was not able to go around the car, they had to back track on the footpath until there was a dropped curb. Unfortunately, the next two entrances back on to the footpath were not a dropped curb so the student was then unable to get back on the footpath for an extended period. The student spoke about how this is a common occurrence that they face daily. As this student talked about other obstacles they come across, such as crossing lights being too short, the rest of the students gathered around to listen. By the end of this walkability audit students were not only pointing out deterrents they faced but ones that their classmate who uses a wheelchair, or others with reduced mobility, would face. These obstacles are not confined to this area, and in order to ignite change we must have conversations with those that directly face them. 

Join the conversation, be part of the bigger Make Way Day story and generate a national conversation about accessibility in Ireland today. Details for your local coordinator are here.