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Lough Ree Access for All recently celebrated the arrival of their new specialised boat, one that can accommodate up to eight wheelchair users at a time as well as the crew. The boat, which came all the way from Estonia, is the first of its kind in Ireland and Britain and was supported by a bridging loan through the WDC’s investment fund.

Ciaran Mullooly, Director and Secretary of Lough Ree Access for All said, “Despite the pandemic, it was possible for five new members of staff to be appointed to the CLG that was set up in February, due to the help we received from the Western Development Commission.” Ciaran continued, “The life of a person with disabilities has been difficult during the last 12 months. Up to 50% of day centres for people with disabilities remained closed and because of this, the HSE said it was important, for mental health reasons, for this to go ahead”. The new boat will be deemed an essential service however, there will be social distancing guidelines in place to ensure the safety of users and crew.

It is a trail blazing project designed universally which enables disabled people the opportunity to participate in a recreational activity like no other.

James Cawley, Wheelchair User

Alan Broderick, a local to Lough Ree, was the brains behind the operation, which took a total of six years to complete. Alan, who saw the daily struggle for wheelchair users during his many years as a volunteer explained, “This was born out of wanting people with disabilities to feel included, equal and independent and to focus on their abilities and not their disabilities”. Alan continued, “There are 31,000 wheelchair users in Ireland and we hope that each person will visit and experience what we have to offer over the coming years.”

As well as receiving help from the Western Development Commission, Lough Ree Access for All received finance from their corporate sponsor, logistics company DPD, as well as detailed consultations from wheelchair users and the disabled community, including Irish Wheelchair Association and Independent Living Movement. This communication provided an insight into the specialist design necessary and how long each boat journey should take with the decision that each sailing would last 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Wheelchair user James Cawley who is the policy officer with Independent Living Movement Ireland, wrote a letter in support of the venture in which he said, “An inclusive society is one where disabled people have the choice of how they live their lives and that society is structured to ensure supports are in place for people to decide what activities they want to be involved in”. Delighted by the arrival of the new service to Lough Ree, James said, “It is a trail blazing project designed universally which enables disabled people the opportunity to participate in a recreational activity like no other. The experience was inclusive and very positive for me and my Personal Assistant, one I would like to use regularly.”

The Access All Areas boat service is located within 20 minutes of Roscommon Town, Longford Town and Strokestown. Lanesborough is 35 minutes from Athlone and 45 minutes from Carrick-on-Shannon and Galway. It will be open to members of the public come May with there being three sailings a day.