June 24, 2022

Activists want cross-party commitment to promote political candidates with disabilities

A disability campaign group has called on politicians to engage across parties to promote the election of candidates with disabilities.

Representatives of the Disability Stakeholders Group (DSG) said political parties had failed to select candidates with disabilities to stand in local and general elections.

Group member Dr Vivian Rath said there was also a lack of support for people with disabilities to engage with local government structures.

Dr Rath told the Oireachtas Committee on Disability Issues that people with disabilities face “many barriers” to applying, including additional costs.

The committee discussed the participation of people with disabilities in political, cultural, community and public life.

Dr Vivian Rath addressed the Committee on Disability Issues (PA)

There are 650,000 disabled people in Ireland.

Dr Rath, a disability rights activist, also said that people with disabilities face persistent barriers to exercising their right to vote.

He told the committee: “For example, in the 2020 general election, I voted in a public hallway finding the voting booth inaccessible to me.

“I carried out a short investigation, with. Maria Ní Fhlatharta of NUIG, to photograph other experiences of voters with disabilities. »

He said 52% of people with disabilities said they faced barriers to voting.

“This included inaccessible polling stations, with many people with disabilities unable to vote privately as ad hoc arrangements were put in place,” he said.

“One respondent even said he voted in his car.

“A lack of information in accessible formats. Some survey respondents said they did not know how to vote or were unable to follow election proceedings.

“A lack of personal assistant support. As the 2020 election took place on a Saturday, some people with disabilities were unable to get support (assistance) and therefore could not access their polling station to vote.

“Among respondents who used postal voting, 52% also said they faced obstacles.

“People with disabilities face many barriers to applying, including the additional costs of disability, barriers to accessibility including the unavailability of Irish Sign Language interpreters, inaccessible meeting places, information and transportation.

“To make progress in this area, we suggest that all parties commit to promoting and supporting the election of candidates with disabilities.

“The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, December 3, 2021, could be the right time to launch such a commitment.”

“We believe that no party is against advancing disability rights, but in our experience there is not enough overt support,” said Renee Dempsey-Clifford, Independent Chairperson of the DSG.

“We sincerely hope that all of the contributions presented today will advance this cause and that the suggestions made, particularly regarding multi-stakeholder engagement, can be seriously considered.”

Dublin councilor Carly Bailey, who has a disability, raised questions about diagnosis and service delivery, particularly for young people.

She described the state’s new needs assessment system as “misfit for purpose.”

She told the committee: ‘I went through this process under the old system with my son.

“We had to fight to get proper diagnostic tests that concluded my son had autism.”

She said her son was referred for a needs assessment in 2014, but by the time he completed the process he was past the age for early intervention and could not use its services.

“Services rendered during this crucial period are much more likely to be effective due to the brain development and plasticity they experience during these years,” she added.

“Something was missed, like thousands of children waiting when there aren’t enough therapists or resources being provided.”