VVI is disappointed at the lack of disability-proofing of, or contained in, the Planning & Development Bill approved by the cabinet in early October. Our reasons are set out below. We have sent this, in letter and submission forms, respectively, to the relevant Ministers, their opposition counterparts, and to the Joint Committee on Housing and Local Government.
We are Voice of Vision Impairment (VVI), Ireland’s Disabled Persons’ Representative Organisation (DPRO) under the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), specialising in advancing the rights and needs of blind and partially sighted people. DPROs are the only ‘representative’ organisations regarding disability, as per Article 4 (3) of the CRPD, meeting the following criteria:
- to avoid conflict of interest, DPROs are not disability service-providers (General Comment 7 (GC7), para. 13);
- DPROs are Human Rights organisations and rooted in the CRPD (GC7, para. 11);
- DPROs are led, directed, run, and specifically staffed by disabled people (ibid.);
- a clear majority of their members (i.e., not service-users) are disabled (ibid.);
Ireland ratified the CRPD in 2018, and so, is supposed to be bound by it, as international law.
Article 4 of the CRPD consists of “General Obligations” which are cross-cutting of everything else contained in the Convention.
Article 4 (1 a-e), effectively means that policies (and by extension, legislation) should be disability-proofed and be compatible with implementation of the CRPD.
Article 4 (3) is the only part of the CRPD explicitly dealing with consultation, and this obliges ‘close consultation with and active involvement of DPROs in all matters relating to disability’ (i.e., including the disability-proofing just mentioned. Details on how this should be done are contained in the UN Committee’s clarification of Articles 4 (3) and 33 (3) – General Comment No. 7 (GC7) – published in November, 2018. This includes prioritising the opinions and views of DPROs in such consultations (GC7, para. 23), and having DPRO-only consultative spaces at all levels and branches of government (GC7, para. 49). DPROs should be proactively approached for continuous (not one-time) engagement in a consultation (GC7, para. 28).
2. The Planning & Development Bill.
Ireland has agreed, in the CRPD, to make the built environment accessible (CRPD, Article 9 (1), and GC2), by utilising the principles of universal design (Article 2).
The last Planning & Development Act (2000) had effectively no disability-proofing of it or in it, and as such, our members face an avalanche of disablist planning. This disablement through design means that we find ourselves increasingly excluded from our environments, such as in the proliferation of open plazas and spaces to be shared between pedestrians and cyclists.
Our nightmarish lived experience is, no doubt, mirrored in the experience of other vulnerable pedestrians and those who must depend on four-wheeled vehicles (such as many in their 80s and 90s, etc.).
Currently, plans must have an Environmental Impact Assessment which rightly looks at the affect a development might have on a particular type of snail, for example, but there is no equivalent to see the impact that a plan might have on our safety or accessibility to a local area or amenity; or even on our safe and accessible travel from our homes to the local shop etc.
The increasing isolation of our members, who find themselves more and more restricted in terms of movement, or confined to visiting fewer and fewer areas, is leading to increasing isolation, and deterioration in physical and mental health. These are the hidden, but very real, social costs of Active Travel plans, in particular, which more-often-than-not, actually put an end to our long-time reliance on Active Travel by making places inaccessible to us as visually impaired people.
In 2013, the National Disability Authority published detailed guidelines on what a “Disability Impact Assessment” should look like; but this was pre-CRPD ratification and so is missing vital structures as set out in General Comment 7.
This advice, to our knowledge, has never been acted on in any plan.
Dublin City Council has been having trials in disability-proofing on certain projects (since 2022), and is finding the experience so useful that it plans to make it corporate policy in the near future. It is a win win, since planners know where to go to find out what they need to do to make their plan workable for as many as possible. Dublin City Council is basing its plans on compliance with consultation obligations in the CRPD (Article 4 (3) and GC7).
3. Golden Opportunity.
This Planning & Development Bill is a golden opportunity for the State to implement key aspects of the CRPD in a way that is immediately practical and discernible by all, while also massively improving the life chances and life quality of visually impaired people, and others, throughout the country.
We were disappointed to find that the awareness-raising by the focal point of the CRPD in Ireland (the Dept. of Children, Equality, Disability etc. (DCEDIY), is so poor that those who drafted the Planning and Development Bill were not aware of their obligations or to the once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix what is very much broken in terms of safe and accessible built environments for a growing population of older and disabled people.
It is not too late to add revisions that protect our Human Rights (along the lines of Ireland’s obligations under the CRPD), to include:
- where plans require an Environmental Impact Assessment or Statement, they must also require an Accessibility Impact Assessment statement;
- Accessibility Impact Assessments must comply with Article 4 (3), as clarified by General Comment 7 of the CRPD), including:
- systematically approaching all national and relevant local DPROs for their close consultation and active involvement;
- for planning authorities to develop agreed procedure with each DPRO for general application;
- continuous, rather than one-time engagement with each DPRO;
- for DPRO-only consultations except where advised otherwise by a relevant DPRO;
- for DPROs to be involved from the concept stage of all relevant plans;
- prioritisation of views and opinions of all DPROs in such consultations, with prioritisation of national DPROs in terms of over-arching principles.
- realistic timeframes for consultations;
- proper resourcing and capacity-building of DPROs to facilitate our meaningful participation in consultations on accessibility impact assessments;
- an independent review body, such as an Oireachtas Commission, to monitor Article 4 (3) compliance in planning;
- making Article 4 (3) compliance a prerequisite for all public realm plans (GC7, paras. 65-6);
- facilitating the taking of class actions by DPROs against disablist planning decisions and decisions that are not otherwise CRPD-compliant;
- regular review and monitoring of the efficacy of DPRO engagement with a view to strengthening and supporting where identified as needed;
- other provisions to be worked out through close consultation and active involvement of DPROs.
By way of resourcing materials, VVI has published a number of relevant documents:
VVIMAC – Manual of Accessible Communications
Manual of Accessible Planning for Pedestrians (VVIMAPP)
VVIMAPS – Manual for Accessible Public Spaces
We are always available for close consultation and active involvement regarding this specific legislation, and the State’s obligations to DPROs and our Human Rights, in general.