Accessing the city: exploring the lived experiences of wheelchair users in Cork city

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O'Donnell, Michael
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Community-Academic Research Links, University College Cork
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People who use wheelchairs regularly encounter physical access barriers while living their everyday lives in the urban environment. Many previous studies have addressed the mechanistic details of creating an accessible environment. However, few studies have addressed the phenomenology of marginalisation and exclusion created through interaction with the built environment and the social world of which it is a product. This study focuses explicitly on the experiences of people who use wheelchairs accessing a built environment which is designed with supposedly ‘able-bodied’ people in mind. In this study, I uncover the power relationships built into the physical environment which serve to marginalise and exclude. I explore how, despite decades of advocacy for a social model, much social policy and legislation around disability still draw from theories of a medical model. I use complimentary participatory and phenomenological methods to carry out this research ‘with’ rather than ‘on’ participants and explore their experiences purely from their own perspective by bracketing my own biases and experiences. I draw five themes from the data which highlight how participant’s experiences of the built environment in Cork city are still predominantly negative despite improvements in recent years. It is evident from the findings that much work still needs to be done to enable people who use wheelchairs to live fully independent lives and be fully included with regards to the built environment. Despite being a small study the findings in this research correspond with the findings of other similar studies. I suggest that more research is needed to explore possible gendered, racial and ethnic dimensions to this phenomenon. I also suggest that further research could focus on the experience of other groups encountering access barriers such as people with visual or other sensory impairments, older people and their experiences and to explore whether the experiences of these groups are comparatively similar or very different to those of people who use wheelchairs.
Frustration , Anger , Fear , Disappointment , Embarrassment , Wheelchair users , Physical access barriers , Urban environment , Accessible environment , Mechanistic details , Able-bodied , Medical model
O'Donnell, M. (2017) Accessing the city: exploring the lived experiences of wheelchair users in Cork city. Cork: Community-Academic Research Links, University College Cork.
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©2017, Michael O'Donnell.