I Did It… My Way!

I did it My Way!

He certainly did!  Dermot Devlin has not only changed the accessibility of businesses and places but has given disabled people more confidence to get out and about with his new website www.mywayaccess.com

Built by disabled, for disabled people, My Way Access has opened up a whole new world to disabled people through the power of information.  Where can wheelchair users go for a day out?  Which eateries have ramps and disabled toilets?  Which shopping centres have disabled car parking?  Which service offers advice/info, etc?

These are questions that Dermot Devlin felt needed answering and so set about developing his website which not only reviews places and services all over NI, but allows you to become the reviewer.

What is it?

My Way Access is an online directory containing details of businesses and how suitable they are for disabled clientele, from across Ireland and the United Kingdom.  It is a growing list which can be added to at anytime by anyone.  You can submit businesses to its directory from your own locality or elsewhere and comment on businesses that you’ve visited and rate them on various topics and issues.  Dermot hopes that this information will then decide if your needs can be met at that particular business and you want to go there.  This in turn will help businesses improve their facilities and services for disabled people.  Genius! 

Dermot said: “I came up with the idea last year, due to my own experience in trying to find out where is suitable and accessible for me to visit in other towns and cities.  To my surprise, no such website existed.  In a lot of cases, people would get frustrated and complain about this, but I decided to take matters in to my own hands.

“I have had incidents in Belfast, Derry and Dublin where I was unable to find out where would be good for me to avoid, due to access problems.  A lot of the time, I had to ring weeks in advance to find out for myself, but this wasn’t satisfactory.  There were cases of places telling me that it was fully accessible when it wasn’t and other times I got the brush off, which made me feel I wasn’t an important enough clientele for them to be bothering with”.

Ultimately, the aim of this website is to give disabled people the confidence to plan a trip away, whether it’s a shopping trip, a social night out, a weekend break or holiday.  They can log into My Way Access and see what other people’s opinions are and use it to assess whether these places are right for them.  Dermot said: “Also with tourism is a major factor; visitors coming to our country can see how accessible Ireland is and towns and cities are the best places for them to visit.”

The Main Review

The website is split into two main areas; one is a main review of the premises which anyone can create.  For example if someone entered Joe Blogg’s Bar in Newry and it is not on the website, they can add it.  The second part is wherein users can add it.  The second part is wherein users can add their main review.  The review covers topics like wheelchair access, friendliness, the quality of the disabled bathrooms, next floor access, cleanliness, if they have an emergency exit plan for blind and deaf awareness, etc and it covers everywhere and everything from accommodation, businesses, education and health institutions, entertainment agencies, government offices, kids places, legal and accountancy services: to pubs and bars, restaurant and cafes, shopping centres, transport and travel companies.

Move Over Facebook

There are many new features being added to My Way Access over the coming months and the result is that it will become more than just an online directory; it will become a social networking site similar to Facebook or My Space. Dermot said: “The site will become an open forum for disabled people where they can not only search for suitable places to visit, but they will be able to discuss ideas and speak openly to each other about items which are currently in the news and the ultimately will affect them. There will be lots of exciting new developments. My Way Access is about helping you and having a bit of fun as well.

“Recently I added an option to log onto the website via Facebook. Over the coming year, it is my vision to fully integrate My Way Access with Facebook and Twitter, so that all information on the website will be shared across all social media formats. At the moment, I am funding the website by myself but I will soon be offering advertising space on the website, for relevant businesses that are of interest to the users of the site. I will then use this extra income to develop the website further, so that it can integrate with social media by my web developer Barry Flood”.

Quite the Character

Dermot, 31, lives in Greencastle, Co. Tyrone and works for Omagh Enterprise Company as a Project Officer, specialising in Social Media for SMEs in the Omagh District area. Dermot said: “I’ve had a very ‘normal’ upbringing thanks to the help of my parents and family who never let me think or believe that I was any different to my peers. I attended a mainstream primary school and high school and at high school, I along with a few friends, organised many events to raise money for charity. We ran events such as Blind dates to raise money for charities like The Foyle Hospice Derry. I also won a Newsround Press Packers competition to be the first person on Euro Disney’s Space Mountain ride. To win that, the task was to write an article on Amusement Parks. The angle I took was how badly they are catered for disabled people in the North of Ireland. Unfortunately when I got there, I was too short to go on the ride, so my Dad became the first person. Funny looking back on it now and it was still a fantastic experience”.

A Unique Outlook

Dermot has Mucopolysaccharide Disease – Morquio Syndrome but says his health is in ‘pretty good shape’ despite a scary incident last year. “I had a health scare on an aeroplane last year coming home from Lourdes, where I collapsed and was rushed to hospital when we landed in Belfast. My health is good now and I joke that most people for go a cure and I come back nearly dead!”.

Dermot is very highly thought of and not just because of his incredible work with his website. He loves nothing more than spending time with his family and friends and is a massive Quantum Leap and Doctor Who nerd! He said he hates it when people are fully able to so something, but use their disability as an excuse not to get on with life (like find employment, meet new people, socialise with existing friends) and detests wasps; “they scare the bejaysus’ out of me!” In five years, he would like to see My Way Access being a recognised name online when it comes to disabled tourism and using the website, to promote disabled rights. “I’d like to be able to set up forums across the country so disabled people can discuss access problems in their area and are able to go to the Councils or premises with a single, unified voice. My hope with the website is, not only will it highlight for disabled users where they can and can’t visit, but it will also give theses businesses and premises an idea of where they are failing and how to fix these access problems.”

 Source: Ability NI Magazine Issue 22 2011