Athlone Civic Centre, where the library is situated.

Autism friendly space to be provided in Athlone Library by early 2023

A new autism friendly space is to be provided in Athlone Library early next year.

The news follows Cllr Paul Hogan's calls on the council to implement initiatives to make Athlone more autism and disability friendly.

Barry Kehoe, Director of Services for Westmeath County Council, said he would support anything that they could do to make the town more inclusive.

“We've appointed a consultant to prepare a design that will go to tender with a view to having it in place in early 2023. The location is in the basement of the building here (Athlone library) in the area that was potentially earmarked for a creche which never materialised,” said Mr Kehoe.

Cllr Hogan said: “We need to be a lot more sensory aware. We're talking about 15% of the population that have a disability. It shouldn't be specific to footpaths. It's much wider than that.”

The Sinn Féin councillor has suggested implementing storyboards, sensory trails and gardens, designated car park spaces and encouraging local businesses to introduce sensory hours.

Cllr Vinny McCormack fully supported the motion saying: “It should be a consideration in projects. It's a good idea to invite the autism society into the chamber to help guide us in projects.”

Cllr Frankie Keena agreed that it was an important motion and suggested that the council look at public shopping centres where there's noise.

Cllr Aengus O'Rourke also suggested writing a letter to Autism Ireland. “I don't think enough can be done in these areas. We're behind from an education point of view in terms of the delivery of professional classes and appropriate classrooms.”

The council was reminded of recent developments for the autism community such as a photoshoot to promote 'Make Way Day' which took place in Athlone on Friday, September 30. It included representation from Disability Groups, the Cathaoirleach of the Council, Gardai and council staff. The town was assessed by people with disabilities to collect information and photographs of obstacles blocking footpaths and access routes throughout Athlone. The photographs and report will be uploaded to the Disability Federation of Ireland website and will be used for a promotional campaign. Any accessibility black spots identified on the walks will be followed up by the Traffic and Community Wardens to address any issues.