16 November 2000 Edition

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Disabled call for change


The Disabled Federation of Ireland has this week called on the Dublin government to implement the policies to secure equality for the disabled that were promised in the coalition's Programme for Government four budgets ago. An Phoblacht' Michael Pierse reports.

The Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) has this week launched a list of budgetary measures that its members believe are vital to the provision of equal rights for the disabled.

  Although commitments have been made to the disabled under government policy, there is a bloody big gap between the aspiration and the reality.  
Niall Keane of the Disability Federation of Ireland

DFI, the umbrella organisation of voluntary disability organisations, lashed out at the failure of the Dublin government to implement its own policies on disability. According to DFI Chief Executive John Dolan: ``We needn't cod ourselves into thinking that things are getting better.''

``We are now facing the fourth budget since their Programme for Government commitment to act for the disabled,'' said Dolan. ``We couldn't consider running a country without the economic infrastructure, yet we consider as a luxury the idea of looking after the disabled.''

According to the most recent statistics on the costs incurred by disabled people, 20 per cent had to buy items relating to their disability at a cost of up to £30 each week. 57 per cent had bought equipment, aids or furniture because of their disability. 17 per cent had carried out alterations to their homes. The statistics showed that 23 per cent had increased appetites, 43 per cent spent more on clothes and 53 per cent spent more on heating. A further sobering statistic is that these `most recent statistics' are all five years old.

Niall Keane, who chairs the DFI, told An Phoblacht that the ``lack of hardcore data'' on the plight of the disabled is another symptom of the government's evasion of the issue.

``Any fair-minded person could easily presume that disabled people are very low down on the list on the government's agenda. Although commitments have been made to the disabled under government policy, there is a bloody big gap between the aspiration and the reality.''

Poverty is a pervasive problem for the disabled, and is particularly acute amongst families where the person with the disability is also the head of the household. According to the ESRI `Living in Ireland Survey' (1997), 72 per cent of all 26-County households headed by disabled persons were below the poverty line. As we have seen from the lack of progression conveyed by successive surveys on poverty, this grim staistic is unlikely to have changed at all for the better. Indeed, the 1987 ESRI survey of the same title, found that only 42 per cent of households headed by a person who was ill or disabled were below the poverty line. A recent Conference of the Religious in Ireland document shows us that, for the disabled and others who have been shaken off by the Celtic Tiger, the `bad old days' of the eighties are still with us. The document, quoted by DFI in their pre-budget submission, states that: ``Since 1987 the risk of poverty has increased for one adult households, households headed by elderly people, by women, by people who are ill or suffer with disabilities, by full-time home workers, by employees and by self-employed people.'' The Celtic what? you might ask.

Another of the difficulties facing disabled people is the tendency to view them, their carers and families as an indistinguishable mass of people, whose difficulties can be catered for in the same way without exception. In this light, DFI is seeking the early introduction of a Variable Costs of Disability Payment scheme. Disabled people are currently in receipt of uniform payments, but according to DFI, there is no comprehensive payment to meet the significant extra costs faced by some people with disabilities. Equipment, mobility, communication, living and medical costs, care and assistance are all areas that need to be addressed immediately, they say. They are also calling for this variable payment to be discounted when assessing income for the medical card and for other similar purposes. ``The introduction of the Variable Costs will put an end to a lot of arguments,'' Keane says.

The organisation is also asking for a mobility allowance to be provided for disabled people across the board. In this vein, it has joined the `more taxis the better' bandwagon in Dublin.

``A lot of plates were given out for taxis on the basis that they would be wheelchair accessible,'' Keane explains. ``However, these taxis are not necessarily available to people with disabilities. They are most often busy with other business. Of course, this comes back to the general call for more taxis in Dublin.''

DFI is calling for an ``accelerated five-year programme to provide a comprehensive and accessible public transport service''. Accessible public transport is something Keane says he has been hearing about for the last 20 years, but he doesn't think that its provision within a five-year period is unrealistic. ``Phased introduction of accessible transport has been talked about and committed to over the last 15 years. It's not down to a lack of ability; it's down to a lack of will.''

The alienation experienced by disabled people is also inflicted upon their carers. Again, disabled people are classified by the government collectively, rather than as individuals requiring individual attention. The Domiciliary Care Allowance and Respite Care Grant, provided for carers, are not based on the number of people with disabilities for whom a single carer is reponsible. A parent who has to care for one disabled child receives the same allowance as another who may care for three. DFI want the upcoming budget to change this - in concurrence with the FF/PD coalition's own policies.

In the current Programme for Government in the 26 Counties, entitled `An Action Programme for the Millennium', there is a clear commitment to equality for the disabled.

``Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in government are committed to radical change to ensure that the needs and aspirations of people with disabilities, their families, carers and advocates are comprehensively addressed,'' it states. ``We are committed to ensuring that disability is placed where it belongs, on the agenda of every government department and public body. Our policy is based on the core principles of promoting empowerment through appropriate, accessible and responsive services.

We recognise that disability is one of the most important social issues facing Ireland today.''

DFI is merely asking that these criteria be met. As John Dolan, said at their press conference, they will need the same courage and commitment to achieve this as the disabled Irish competitors who recently partook in the Sydney Paralympics. If anything, the public outcry at Mary Ellen Synon's putrid tirade against these competitors in the Sunday Independent shows that most Irish people are behind DFI's demands.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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