Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Accessibility of Public Transport for People with Disabilities: Motion


5:45 pm

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Kildare South, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

Like my colleague, I commend the committee and its Chairman on the very important work on this report. There is no doubt that people with all types of disabilities, including physical, intellectual, learning, hearing, sight, mobility, speech, deafness and mental health issues, do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others who do not have a disability. It is important that we try to level the playing field and ensure that those with a disability have access to the same rights, the opportunity to work, to have a social life and to contribute to society. With regard to the report and recommendations, I thought it was particularly interesting that the IWA revealed that only 5% of taxis across the country were wheelchair accessible. That is stunning and while grants are available to taxi drivers to increase accessibility for wheelchairs, they are not sufficient to incentivise taxi drivers to do so. It is important that the Department examines that. We know from surveys that are done that 80% of people with disabilities travel as car passengers because they cannot access public transport.

That is difficult, especially for those who live in rural isolation where there is no public transport and who rely on a family member to drive them places. I live in Newbridge, a commuter town, where, increasingly, people have to buy tickets at unstaffed stations. That is a significant challenge for people with a disability, especially those with intellectual disabilities, who travel alone. If there is a problem with a ticket machine, which often happens, having human support is very important to disabled people, especially when travelling alone. We know that previously people with disabilities had an automatic right to have somebody travel with them but this was taken away and there is quite an onerous procedure to get somebody else on a travel pass. That needs to be looked at. Having to provide notice 24 hours in advance of travel is completely wrong.

When I am talking about that, I think of the care and work of the people on the internships for people with disabilities here in Leinster House. I think of Kenny, who travels every day from Kildare town. I talk to him about the obstacles that he has to go through four days a week to contribute to the work that we are doing. He is a marvellous young man and indicative of the passion and human spirit that we need to help and support. I also think of my brother, Cathal, who has Down's syndrome and cannot drive. Living four miles from the nearest village, Rathangan, he has to rely on my mother or siblings to bring him anywhere. That is not good enough.

It is interesting that while only 5% of our taxis are not wheelchair accessible, we have an excellent Rural Link service in Kildare. Alan Kerry does a really good job with the resources he has but national policy dictates that all vehicles in rural transport fleets must be accessible so every bus is accessible. If we can do that in Rural Link we should be able to incentivise the taxi drivers to do that. The National Council for the Blind of Ireland, NCBI, has denounced the lack of reliable audible announcements on buses, trains and trams. If someone who is visually impaired cannot hear what the next stop is, he or she is severely disadvantaged. Sometimes I strain to hear when I am on an unfamiliar route. The fact that people with travel passes have to pay an extra €5 each way to reserve a seat is wrong. Those who do not have travel passes do not have to pay.

There is an anomaly in that many private bus operators do not accept the travel pass. The Department has to get grips with that. While there is no doubt that different groups fighting for disability rights believe more training is required for transport employees, and I agree, I have come across some excellent people and they need to be commended.

There are approximately 5,000 bus stops that cannot be accessed by wheelchair users and there is no way for disabled people to check the position in that regard in advance. If somebody with a disability is travelling to a place with which he or she is not familiar, he or she will not know until he or she gets there whether he or she will be able to alight from or board a bus. That is completely wrong. The isolation of elderly people with disabilities who live in rural areas has been highlighted in every form of research I have read.

As Chairman of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills, I, along with Deputy Curran, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection, and Deputy Harty, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health, held several meetings and published a report entitled Review of Supports Available to People with Disabilities Transitioning from Education or Training into Employment. A total of 71% of people with disabilities cannot access employment. While the reasons are complex - I will not go into them now - it is important to say that transport was included for discussion at all of the hearings we held. Different agencies dealing with disabilities came before us and we also heard people talk about their lived experience. When so many people cannot access employment that is absolutely wrong.

Deputy Troy referred to the now discontinued motorised transport grant and the mobility allowance. That is very important for young people accessing education and training, apart from all the other myriad reasons. Prior to Inclusion Ireland's submission for budget 2018 the organisation consulted widely with disabled people and the mobility grant and the motorised transport scheme was one of the issues that arose more significantly than others. Many said a key priority for them was the reinstatement of this mobility grant. It has left families in desperate financial distress and many disabled people in rural areas without transport.

Under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities people have a fundamental human right to full and effective participation and inclusion in society. That right, however, is of little use if the correct supports are not in place. Access to public transport absolutely has to be one of those.

Years ago, the Government rightly stated that people in services and those in institutions should be moved out to live independently and should choose their own support services. That is very important and I applaud those who have helped to make that happen. It is a whole different situation, however, when people move into homes. There are several of them in Rathangan, my home town. Not having access to public transport is very difficult. If we want people to be full members of the community within which they live - and everybody has something to contribute to their community - but they do not have access to any type of transport to enable them to be part of a social network or indeed to go to work in that area there is something radically wrong. We have to empower people with disabilities, give them dignity and respect, and enable them to become full members of society.


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