Young mum has to carry disabled son up concrete steps to catch school bus

The morning rush and the school run are stressful enough, but try doing it when your ten-year-old cannot walk and the only route to his special school bus means physically manhandling him up a set of steep concrete steps.

That's the exhausting, exasperating task facing mum Joanne McNamee every school day.

Joanne lives in Strabane, Co. Tyrone, with her autistic son Kayden.

He is non-verbal, has severe learning difficulties, and uses a wheelchair.

Every weekday Kayden looks forward to seeing his friends in school, but the bus stop is at the top of the concrete steps and that means Joanne has to lift Kayden out of his wheelchair and virtually carry him up the steps before putting him back in the wheelchair and pushing him to the bus.

"Why can't Kayden have a ramp outside his house, a safe way of getting to the bus?" asks Joanne. "His rights and his dignity are being taken from him."

The young mum is worried for the future. "I'm only going to get older and meanwhile Kayden is growing bigger and he's getting too heavy now to lift.

"He's fallen once already, but thankfully I was right behind him to catch him."

For the last four years Joanne has been asking for a ramp to navigate the steps near her Ballycolman Estate home.

But the government body that can authorise and build one - the Department for Infrastructure - is facing a budget squeeze.

Joanne says the fact that a bus stop was built at the top of a flight of concrete steps shows there's no joined-up thinking when it comes to disability provision.

"And it gets worse," she says. "I've been allocated a dedicated disabled parking space, but guess where they've put it?  Beside the bus stop at the top of the concrete steps. You couldn't make it up."

Disability Action is an organisation that works to improve the lives of people living with physical disabilities.

"Its head of policy Nuala Toman says the way Joanne and Kayden have been treated is not good enough: "What are you expected to do with a disabled person, carry them up the steps? It's beyond belief."

Nuala says that Joanne and Kayden's case illustrates that Northern Ireland lags far behind the rest of the UK when it comes to protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

"Disabled people in this region lack the same protections against discrimination," she says.

"There's very clear guidance that applies in England and Wales that says steps should be replaced by a ramp, and at the minute that guidance simply doesn't exist here."

The Department for Infrastructure told UTV it would be willing to look at Kayden's need for a ramp if it could identify a feasible design and if the money could be found.

In Strabane, meanwhile, Kayden's mum faces a daily school run that has become a daily grind.

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