A campaign group for people with disabilities called on politicians to engage among 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 run 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. There are 650,000 people with disabilities in Ireland.
Dr Rath, a disability rights activist, also said that people with disabilities face persistent barriers in exercising their right to vote. He told the committee: “For example, in the 2020 general election, I voted in a public hall finding the voting booth inaccessible to me. I conducted a short investigation, along with Maria Ni Fhlatharta of NUIG, to photograph other experiences of voters with disabilities. ‘
He said that 52% of people with disabilities said they faced barriers in voting. “This included inaccessible polling stations, with many people with disabilities unable to vote in private 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 could not follow election debates, as a result. Lack of support from the personal assistant. With the 2020 election taking place on a Saturday, some people with disabilities were unable to obtain (assistance) support and therefore were unable to access their polling station to vote.
“Of those polled who used postal voting, 52% also said they faced barriers. People with disabilities face many barriers to applying, including additional disability-related costs, accessibility barriers including unavailability of Irish Sign Language interpreters, inaccessible meeting venues, information and transports.
“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 an opportune time to launch such a commitment. ‘
Renee Dempsey-Clifford, Independent Chairman of DSG, said: “We are generally of the opinion that no party is against advancing the rights of persons with disabilities, but in our experience there is no Sufficient clear support We sincerely hope that all of the contributions presented today will further advance this cause and that the suggestions made, especially regarding multi-stakeholder engagement, can be seriously considered.
Dublin councilor Carly Bailey, who has a disability, raised questions about diagnosis and service delivery, especially for young people. She described the new state needs assessment system as “unsuitable for its purpose”. She told the committee, “I went through this process under the old system with my son.
“We had to fight for proper diagnostic tests which concluded that my son has 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 early intervention stage and could no longer use his services.
“The services provided during this crucial time are much more likely to be effective due to the brain development and plasticity they experience during these years,” the Dublin adviser added. “He missed part, like thousands of children waiting with not enough therapists or resources provided.”