Seanad debates

Thursday, 22 September 2022

New Innovations for People with Disabilities (Digital Assistive Technology): Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)

This is a great opportunity to make statements and look at the innovative developments the Minister of State is leading on in the Department. I thank her most sincerely for the constant advocacy, work and dedication that she shows in this Department. I speak about it every week at my own parliamentary party meeting, as I said to the Minister of State before, also to ensure that she gets all of the supports she deserves. No better woman. I am very proud to have her as a governmental colleague. I think she has been extraordinary and very responsive in ways that are often behind the scenes and that nobody really knows about, in the texts she gets from us sometimes at weekends.

On assistive technologies, it is great that innovation has moved to such a place that it assists people in living their lives in a more full way. I completely take on board everything that Senator Clonan said. His contribution describes that need to ensure we have all the supports. The lack of occupational therapists, speech and language therapy and all that is a travesty across the entire HSE for children and for everybody who needs those services. That is a whole other day's debate but I am highlighting the need for assistance in such very practical ways as well as the more developmental ways.

I always come back to the cost of disability, the cost of the loss of opportunity for persons to live their best life, which is one of the sayings of the chief executive of Cheeverstown, TJ Duggan. TJ has always said to me that this is about making sure people live their best life. Everybody should have equality of opportunity and assistive technology provides that as long as we have all of the clinical services and supports, as long as we have connectivity. I am very pleased that broadband has been rolled out and I thank my own party colleagues for that. We need things like that to make sure there is connectivity wherever people are.There are opportunities in employment. Now that we are working to a hybrid model of employment, there is an opportunity for people with disabilities, mobility issues or challenges to work in a home office that is set up properly, so that they can have the opportunity to reach out and have such access to the workforce.

Under health and safety law, there is an obligation for a risk assessment to be done. Risk assessment is essentially the planning for every scenario that might arise, whether it arises or not. Some part of me believes that schools and employers should be obliged to perform access assessments and inability assessments in the context of enabling. We are working on universal design, as mentioned by the Minister of State during the Commencement debate. I know how much we talk about this on the housing committing, and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, has been instrumental in that.

I am about to take on an intern who will rely heavily on his assistance dog. When thinking about that I wonder how that will work in the context of Leinster House, accessibility, and working in my office. The college has said that there is no problem with him working from home. I do not want him to work from home. I want him to have the experience of being in Leinster House. I want him to have the fullest experience of being an intern in the same way anyone else would have as an intern. There is no document that I can reach to that has foreseen this and outlines systems in place. There is nothing I can reach to for in the way one might if it related to health and safety - that is me speaking while wearing my employment lawyer hat. There is a way to plan and there should be an obligation to plan for such situations. What do employers do and where do they go to on this? I know the voluntary and sectoral organisations probably have assistance but the question is whether it is formalised. These are matters we need to be thinking about. I appreciate I have gone over time and I thank the Acting Chair for his indulgence.


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