Falkirk Area Disabled Access Panel needs help to deliver more improvements

Working together...to secure better access for disabled people are (front) chairman George Williamson and vice-chairman Jennie McCartney and (back) secretary Karen Procek, Alex Smith, Diane Williamson and treasurer Michael Anderson with his guide dog Quin. (Pic: Michael Gillen)
Working together...to secure better access for disabled people are (front) chairman George Williamson and vice-chairman Jennie McCartney and (back) secretary Karen Procek, Alex Smith, Diane Williamson and treasurer Michael Anderson with his guide dog Quin. (Pic: Michael Gillen)

A small but dedicated team of volunteers is working to improve access for the disabled locally.

Falkirk Area Disabled Access Panel (FADAP) also has ambitious fundraising plans for the future.

Members hope to amass £40,000 to buy a portable Changing Place which can be used at galas and major events across the district.

However, the group – which meets once a month in Forth Valley Sensory Centre – also needs new blood to join the ranks and lend a hand.

For there are only seven members who have quite a lot on their plates.

As well as organising monthly meetings, members field complaints from people who have faced access issues and meet regularly with transport organisations.

Speaking to chairman George Williamson, his wife Diane and vice-chairman Jennie McCartney, there appears to be much to sort.

Jennie, who became a wheelchair user after botched hip surgery resulted in her leg being amputated nine years ago, explained: “I attend the taxi forum every quarter – and whine a lot!

“The number of wheelchair accessible taxis has dropped dramatically.

“It used to be that 25 per cent of the fleet had to be wheelchair accessible.

“However, taxi drivers can now choose between a hybrid or an accessible vehicle – most pick a hybrid as its cheaper to run.

“According to Bryan Douglas at the forum, around 21 per cent of the fleet used to be accessible. That has now fallen to 17 per cent.

“It’s not even a poor service, it’s unacceptable.

“I spend a fortune on taxis every month but trying to get one is not always easy.”

FADAP is hoping Network Rail will attend its May meeting to iron out some issues too.

George, who worked for many years as a council roads inspector but retired in 1998 when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, said: “Signage is a problem at Falkirk Grahamston where you can’t access both platforms easily.

“It’s the same at Falkirk High where the underpass to Platform 2 doesn’t even have a sign up explaining that’s how to access the station.

“People who live here know but if you’re not local, it can really catch you out. Some people have gone up the ramp at the car park, only to find themselves on the wrong platform.”

Sadly, the wheels of change turn very slowly.

For example, FADAP carried out a survey from Falkirk Grahamston to the retail park with the aid of Living Streets and the council’s roads department two years ago – and is still waiting for suggested improvements.

However, there have been some victories too.

George said: “We held a conference last year to which we invited local MSPs and councillors.

“The event was organised by two mums who joined the group a couple of years ago – Laura Rutherford and Karen Procek, our secretary.

“Both have children with disabilities and were keen for fully-accessible changing facilities for disabled people to be installed at our swimming pools.

“FADAP and Falkirk Council are now leading the way in providing Changing Places at the Mariner Centre and Grangemouth Sports Complex, with plans for others at Forth Valley Royal Hospital and the Helix.

“A number of dropped kerbs have also been installed, most notably outside the sensory centre so that our members can get across Stirling Road, which is a very busy route.

“And we held an accessible transport meeting at Grangemouth Civic Centre in March, which was attended by bus and taxi representatives, as well as councillors and staff.”

FADAP is also keen to launch its own fundraising campaign for a portable Changing Place, costing around £40,000. However, members are unsure how to go about it – and are hoping to attract new blood to help.

Jennie explained: “We only have seven members and, with so few of us, we’re missing out on raising funds to deliver improvements.

“We’d love to welcome more people along to our monthly meetings, both disabled and able-bodied.

“Diane is our only able-bodied member and she does an incredible job.

“But we’d be able to do so much more if additional members joined the group.”

FADAP also knows much work still needs to be done.

Jennie added: “We’re hoping Living Streets will help us with an accessibility survey in the town centre as there are issues there.

“We’ll also be looking at paths in the Falkirk area, with the aim of ensuring they are fully accessible to all.”

Networking is key to success

Founded in 2013, Falkirk Area Disabled Access Panel was born out of the ashes of an earlier group called Falkirk Disability Access.

Supported by the registered charity Disability Equality Scotland, FADAP’s ambition has always been to improve life for disabled people who live in or visit the Falkirk area.

And while its members work hard to do just that, they also have fun with the December meeting taking the form of a Christmas lunch.

The group meets on the third Friday of every month from 10.30am to noon, at Forth Valley Sensory Centre in Redbrae Road, Camelon – barring July and December.

The next meeting will be held on May 17 when members hope a Network Rail representative will join them. Sadly, the organisation was unable to attend the accessible transport meeting in Grangemouth in March.

However, First Bus and taxi representatives did turn out, as did local councillors who have long supported the group, such as Cecil Meiklejohn and Pat Reid. While First Bus’s new fleet and drivers were praised by FADAP, it still has some way to go.

Jennie explained: “First Bus and its drivers are always so polite and helpful but only one wheelchair can be accommodated on each bus.

“The firm has just bought a new fleet so to replace them now would be very costly.

“But with an aging population no longer content to sit in their four walls, wheelchair usage is likely to continue to grow.

“We’re hoping in future First Bus will consider providing two wheelchair spaces by adapting seats at the front of the bus.”

To find out more about FADAP or help with fundraising for a portable Changing Place, contact Diane Williamson on 07808 773857 or email geopolmont52@gmail.com.