Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Autism

Autism Policy in Education: Discussion (Resumed)

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

You have caught me on the hop, Chair. I do not have any questions. I have observations more than anything else. We have heard from many witnesses over recent weeks and months that any service in the disability sector seems to be extremely restrictive. We have heard about opportunities for anybody with any form of disability. I hate using that word because it is a label. This is about equal opportunities and being able to get the opportunity even to access second level education. To be lucky enough to get into third level education is a wonderful achievement and definitely gives people a sense of self-worth. Like anybody, any human soul, when you know in your heart and soul that you have the potential to move forward yet you are prevented because of what could be the simplest little thing, like public transport or accessibility, and to have those tiny issues standing in your way of moving forward definitely would affect your mental health, never mind your self-esteem. As for the knock-on effect of that, as we always say, where there is an action there is always an instant reaction.

I hope the national access plan, if it is a good plan, will work. I have read through the statistics. The number of people registering has gone up from the low thousands and is nearly hitting the 20,000 mark now. It is probably due to the fact that more people may be engaging with the services. On this committee, it is very important for us to express that, with all the pathways that are there and with the colleges getting involved in this, we need to get it into the public domain. We also need a system whereby we can assist people rapidly with this because sometimes there is a very small window. Many people will not be aware of this and, once they are finished their secondary schooling, they think that is it and ask where they will go then. Those service users should always be involved in policymaking, and the same with the education sector or whatever other sector.

When you engage with and listen to service users, it can make it very easy for both sides to work together. A number of years ago, we on the town council brought in stakeholder service users, including those who were on wheelchairs and visually impaired, and we listened to them. We went away and came back with a plan with which everybody agreed, and the streetscape we came up with actually won a European mobility award. When there is buy-in from all sectors and people can work together, it is a win-win situation. I was very excited when we spoke about this in our private meeting. It is about time people get a chance to express themselves and everybody comes together. I have often sat on other committees at which there were five different Departments with five different plans to fix the same problem, instead of coming together and coming up with one plan to fix the problem.

I am very interested and excited to hear from the rest of the witnesses. Hopefully, this will get into the public domain and people will learn that there is hope out there. If we work together, the light at the end of the tunnel will get brighter and the horizon will become higher and brighter.


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