Thursday, 10 September 2020
Services for People with Disabilities: Statements
Brian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party)
I will speak about mobility impairment. We do not treat disabled members of society fairly. There is much evidence to support this claim but I want to focus on how we have failed to create towns and cities that all of our citizens can get around and enjoy. We park vehicles on footpaths. We allow dogs to foul our streets and do not clean up after them. We install gates that people with disabilities cannot get through.
We tolerate these things individually and collectively and that makes life more difficult for those who have mobility impairments. When it comes to our commitment to providing quality, universal access infrastructure our track record has been lacklustre at best. In doing so, we are showing a systemic disregard for our fellow citizens.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was ratified by the Irish Government in 2018. The National Disability Authority states:
The purpose of the Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. It applies established human rights principles from the UN Declaration on Human Rights to the situation of people with disabilities. It covers civil and political rights to equal treatment and freedom from discrimination, and social and economic rights in areas like education, health care, employment and transport. States which ratify the UN Convention commit themselves to delivering civil and political rights to people with disabilities, and to progressive realisation of social and economic rights.
It is time we embraced the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We must ensure that people with disabilities have the right to access their own community. We must give a clear signal of intent as to where our priorities lie and that we intend to design our public spaces so that they are fully inclusive for all members of society. We need to stop constantly having to retrofit our public realm to be accessible as an afterthought.
People with disabilities walk and cycle too. People without power in their lower limbs can use hand cycles. People with conditions such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease can often find it easier to cycle rather than walk. Every person has abilities, and every person has limits to their abilities. If we make sure that our streets are designed so that they are open and accessible to people with disabilities, they will be open and accessible to us all at all stages of our lives. Designing our streets to allow people using wheelchairs to move safely and comfortably around would allow parents pushing buggies to move safely and comfortably around also. It will allow a footballer who has broken her leg and is on crutches for months to get about safely and comfortably. If we design for people with disabilities we will have villages, towns and cities that benefit us all at all stages of our lives.
High quality, inclusive, active-travel infrastructure is infrastructure that improves people's opportunities to access employment, public transport, education, green spaces, health services and social amenities. Walking and cycling provide opportunities for social interaction for people to meet and greet each other. We have seen during this pandemic the importance of social interaction. It helps combat social isolation. It helps build communities. Now, more than ever, in the face of a pandemic, a global recession and a climate and biodiversity crisis, we need to ensure that we have strong, cohesive communities. Allowing more people of different abilities access and engage with our public space enriches our society through diversity.
In the middle of a public health crisis we need to consider the impact of our streets on our public health. I urge local authorities around the country to filter through-traffic from town centres and build quality walking and cycling networks to allow people to be physically distanced while remaining physically active. We all know the importance of physical activity to maintain and improve our physical and mental heath. We cannot continue to put barriers in front of people with disabilities so that they are excluded from doing the same. With sedentary lifestyles and lack of access to physical activity, people with disabilities can often start with one impairment and develop others. Disabled people have shorter life expectancies. We need to do more to protect their health.
The Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets was published jointly by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government in 2013. It is a very good document which contains within it many of the important design principles and fundamentals which will greatly improve mobility for all our citizens. DMURS, as it is known, is mandatory guidance, that is to say that all local authorities must follow it when designing a new public realm or making any interventions to an existing public realm. Regrettably, it is widely ignored.
It is not enough to have good guidelines. We must have adherence and implementation. It is time we created the role of disability officer in our councils, qualified personnel who can access projects for their alignment with the guidance and with the needs of those who are mobility impaired.
This Government has committed to funding walking, cycling and mobility infrastructure to ensure that many more people can choose to walk or cycle in their communities and to improve dramatically modal shifts to sustainable modes of transport. Active travel has been under-funded for far too long. All across the country, local authorities are implementing active-travel infrastructure. We must ensure that this active-travel infrastructure is fully inclusive. We need more continuous footpaths with level surfaces. We need extended pedestrian crossing times. We need mobility lanes wide enough to accommodate different types of bikes and the provision of disabled bike parking. We need to be ambitious about the design of our streets.
To ensure that active travel in Ireland is fully inclusive, we have to look beyond infrastructure. Financial supports are available for adapted cars for people with disabilities but adapted cycles can be prohibitively expensive. I would welcome an expansion of the current successful bike to work scheme that the Green Party introduced to ensure that all members of our community - disabled people, the unemployed, students and our elderly - can avail of the scheme. The July stimulus included an expansion of the scheme to include ebikes. I would welcome its further expansion to include adapted cycles also for people with disabilities.
We must bring about a sea change in our attitudes to people with disabilities and everyone must play their part. A zero-tolerance approach to parking on footpaths and in cycling lanes, which disproportionately affects people with disabilities, is required. We need traffic wardens and An Garda Síochána to enforce that. We need local authorities, planners and engineers to ensure that our public realm is inclusive to everyone and that our active travel infrastructure allows everyone to get around their community safely and comfortably.