Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 29 September 2022
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Autism
Joint Meeting with Joint Committee on Disability Matters
Accessibility in the Built Environment, Information and Communication: Discussion
Mr. Adam Harris:
The census question is absolutely critical. Just last summer, we saw the problems we have with regard to data on autism in the context of education. At the minute, we have different data sets. There are efforts under way to marry them but it is not a perfect science. One very simple example of this is that, if you are an autistic adult accessing a diagnosis privately, as we know you must, you will not be in any HSE or Department of Education data set. The census is the way to do it. To be clear, it could be an autism-specific question or a reform of the disability question on the census. At the moment, none of the fields within that question truly speaks to an autistic person's experience. As a result, I fear that people are going unseen and that this is affecting national planning.
On consultation, the picture is very mixed. There certainly is tokenistic consultation on many matters across the public sector and times when consultations are not accessible in and of themselves, which undermines the point. If we step away from the policy area and think more about making services accessible, we have seen many public bodies coming to us seeking support and training in this area. Key examples of this in recent years have involved libraries, public transport and universities. Schools are a priority area because the State is going to be investing heavily in new school buildings over the coming decade. In my view, the school buildings that are being built are, in many instances, less accessible for autistic people. To give one example, very often you have to go through very busy areas to get to a quiet space. Very vibrant and overwhelming colours are sometimes being used. We sometimes even see that in the design of autism classes themselves. More work needs to be done in that area.