UL research shows 'inequalities' for wheelchair users

'People have had their human rights breached'

Fintan Walsh


Fintan Walsh

UL research shows 'inequalities' for wheelchair users

Dr Margaret Kennedy and her sister Ann

A LARGE number of people feel that their wheelchair “does not meet their needs”, according to research results presented to a member of  Seanad Éireann this week by the University of Limerick.

Presenting the research to Sen John Dolan at Leinster House, UL’s Dr Rosie Gowran said that the results illustrate the “major position of inequality to access daily life, school, work and leisure” for some wheelchair users.

The 273 people who took part in the survey included parents of children, adults with spinal cord injury, progressive neurological conditions and other conditions such as acquired brain injury and stroke. The findings showed that 38% felt that their wheelchair “did not meet their needs”.

“The survey highlights a lack of uniformity in wheelchair provision across the country, with delays as each stage of the process, waiting for assessment, funding and delivery of the wheelchair, with only 17% receiving follow up within six months of receiving their new wheelchair,” the research stated. 

Dr Gowran said that, while there is evidence of improvements in assessments, the “entire system lacks uniformity. Loss of personal mobility without an appropriate wheelchair can affect growth and development; increase the risk of pressure ulcers and impact greatly on a person’s mental health”.

She said that a policy platform needs to be established to address short- and long-term issues needed for the 40,000 wheelchair users in the country. 

“Wheelchair provision is relevant to the whole of society, as any one of us could become a wheelchair user, these results are stark. Irish people would like to know that if they, their child, or parent needed a wheelchair that an appropriate chair would be provided and looked after in a timely and efficient manner to ensure people can live their lives as independently as possible,” she said. 

Dr Margaret Kennedy, who was recently awarded her postgraduate degree in Posture, Seating and Wheelchair Mobility at UL, said that people “have had their human rights breached”.

Dr Kennedy, who welcomed the survey, said: “It is extraordinary that disabled people who need and use wheelchairs should find HSE services are inadequate to provide them and that when they do 38% of respondents said the wheelchairs do not meet their needs.

“The assessments for wheelchairs is a highly skilled process where posture, seating and type of wheelchair has to be examined by engineers, physiotherapist and occupational therapists working together to get the right 'fit' for the type of impairment of the wheelchair user. Users may need straps, splints, different armrests, leg , neck, head, shoulder supports, and differing cushions and moulded backs to enable comfortable and safe wheelchair use. Each part of one’s body needs examination for the right support needed.

“The provision of wheelchairs is not just about giving a chair on four wheels, not just about being able to go to the shops for milk and bread. Wheelchairs are a human rights issue. The human right to be equal in society, to avail of all that the world offers. An appropriate wheelchair offers control, power and equality to wheelchair users. 38% of respondents in this study , from my perspective have had their human rights breached,” she told the Leader.

Ms Kennedy and her sister, Ann, were awarded fellowships at a recent Mitochondrial European Educational Training symposium, in Holland.