Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 11 November 2020
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters
National Disability Inclusion Strategy: Discussion (Resumed)
I thank all our guests for their contributions. I found them very engaging, especially that of Dr. McDonagh. She made the point, also made by Ms Gibney, that by speaking to people with disabilities, rather than somebody representing them, we will get a much clearer picture of what is needed. That is so important. We were talking earlier about inviting guests to our meetings in the coming weeks. It is important that we hear from disabled persons' organisations. As somebody said to me during the week, it is really important to have an organisation of disabled people rather than one for disabled people.
Many speakers mentioned a change in mindset, which is absolutely needed for all of us. There are many standards and various items of legislation, but in many cases they are not enacted, regulated or monitored. The Disability Act has been in place since 2005 and there are various regulations for buildings, but there is no guarantee that buildings are accessible. The Irish Wheelchair Association carried out a survey that found that 77% of respondents still felt that certain buildings were inaccessible. Online systems and technology are used more and more frequently, never more so than during Covid, but it does not suit everybody to use an online system. Someone who has a visual impairment told me they needed to use the phone but people working in public services were not answering the phones because they were working from home and the phones were not being monitored or the calls were not being transferred. We need continuously to think about including everybody but we do not do that. It is important and it is what the committee needs to do.
Many of the points I had intended to make have been made and I agree with them, but there are a few further questions I wish to ask, one of which relates to education. I was a teacher before I was elected. What is the delay in the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act being fully commenced? I often talk to parents who have known their child has had a learning difficulty from early on in life, or perhaps the teacher in the school has realised, and the child goes to have an assessment but that takes years unless the parent has the money to pay for it. When the child finally has the assessment, whichever way it happens, he or she goes to access whatever therapy is needed, such as speech and language or occupational therapy, and there is another waiting list. The parents of these children or young adults say they have to fight for everything throughout their lives, but they should not have to. People should be entitled to whatever needs they have. The earlier that interventions can be made in some cases, the better.
The other matter that concerns me is the move away from congregated settings. It was supposed to be the case that by 2016, we would have closed congregated settings, but that was changed to reducing their use by one third by 2021 and to closing them eventually. According to HIQA, there are still almost 3,000 people in congregated settings and that does not count all the young people in nursing homes. How long will that process take?