One of my greatest passions is wheelchair transport.
Let me tell you about a brilliant company that has served the Southside of Dublin for over twenty years. Up until now it has been known as ACTS (Accessible Community Tansport Southside).
It was set up in 2001 and 2002 with the help of the Southside Partnership. The Partnership gave ACTS their childcare bus and provided funding for a second bus. In fact, Gerry O’Brien. who had been the disability support worker with the Southside Partnership, became the first Manager of ACTS. He held this position for almost nineteen years.
Before ACTS came into operation, my life was very different. When I was elected Disability Director to the Southside Partnership in November 2000, their offices were not accessible, as this issue of wheelchair access did not face them until then. So, this meant that I had to get a taxi each way to each meeting and back.
However, the journeys were very hard for me because of the chronic pain I was in at the time. I had been injured in two accidents, one in 1997 and the other in 1998 in which I received nerve damage to my right arm, my neck and my back. This pain was constant but made worse every time I had to transfer from chair to car and then back again on the return journey. Every meeting meant four transfers in and out, and it was nightmare for me. So, when ACTS was founded, I could travel in my own wheelchair in comfort and safety because my chair was clamped down to the floor and there was a belt that went across me and my chair together to protect me from moving forwards or backwards should the bus suddenly stop.
I also remember that for the first few years that I lived on my own with the help of Personal Assistants, I hadn’t got enough hours for Sunday assistance. This meant that I had to go to my parents’ house usually from 1pm to 7pm. ACTS picked me up from Dun Laoghaire to Shankill where my mother still lives. All I had to do was ring my parents when I was safely on the bus to let them know I was leaving home. And then on my return journey I would ring the PA to let her know I was on the way home.
Nine years ago, when my dad died after midnight in hospital, I got up and got fully dressed, ready to go to meet my mother at the hospital. I felt sure I would be able to get transport—but I couldn’t get a single taxi. I rang twenty companies, but no one could help me. Only in the morning, when I sent a text to Gerry, the ACTS Manager, did I have success. As soon as he got my text, he arranged a bus and driver to bring me wherever I needed to go.
And, of course, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my master’s degree if ACTS didn’t exist.
ACTS was helping many other people with various mobility difficulties to get to anywhere they needed to go.
Also, I would say that ACTS has added to the realization of independent living by helping people to live their lives and come and go as they wish.
This needed transport lifeline was nearly cut in 2022 when we were forced after Covid to look at voluntary liquidation because we couldn’t generate enough funds to keep going. So the decision was taken to shut down the company!
Even from my single perspective I alone had three very important appointments that I had to attend. Two in September and one in October. How could I possibly attend them without transport? And what about all the other people who needed transport? I knew there were three other similar companies now and I felt sure that one of them could help me. The following Monday, I tried those three companies—but each of them said they did not operate in my southside area which ACTS covered.
I felt as if my legs and wheels had been cut off. In the meantime, there were other clients who decided to ring and complain to the popular afternoon Joe Duffy chat show on RTE radio to talk about how the loss of ACTS would affect them.
As a result of the radio show, a donor who did not wish to be named as a condition of his help, came forward offering to pay the expenses for the second half of September. He also offered to put ACTS on a firm future financial footing.
I cannot express what this has meant to me and everyone else stranded. I was able to go to all my appointments easily, but I will never ever forget how heartbroken I was when no other similar service provider would come to our aid.
I simply do not know what I would ever do without ACTS as a door-to-door transport service. The impact upon me and the rest of the clients cannot be measured.
Just to let you know, on the internet now there is a Go-Fund-Me page set up to raise money to update and expand the fleet so that ACTS can keep going for many years to come.