VVI’s Written Submission on Ireland’s Next Disability Strategy.


Ireland has gone through the motions of coming up with various five-year National Disability Inclusion Strategies (NDISs) for most of the past 25 years. The efficacy of those strategies – i.e., ranging from barely perceivable advances to steps backward – speaks to a wastage of resources on self-serving spin by the State, and a system which needs a total reset.

In 2018, Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), but it appears that nobody with power read or understood Ireland’s obligations under that treaty, and so the State failed to notice that the CRPD it ratified meant a paradigm shift in how things are to be done, and not business-as-usual.

For example, up until now, Ireland has publically stated that it sees the implementation of everything in the CRPD as being a matter of “progressive realisation,” (e.g., IR, para. 7),* apparently unaware of the fundamental UN treaty principle that only socio-economic and cultural rights are of “progressive realisation” and that everything else is of immediate effect (cf. CRPD, General Comment No. 1 (GC1), para. 30).

  • IR = Ireland’s Initial Report on its Implementation of the CRPD, November, 2021.,rights%20of%20people%20with%20disabilities.

Given the above institutional failings on the part of the State, it was hardly surprising that it did not immediately replace the last NDIS (2017-2021), and instead, prolonged that NDIS by a year, and had nothing to replace it with in 2023. In the meantime, there has been no CRPD-compliant implementation of the CRPD, so effectively, no actual implementation of the CRPD – immediate or otherwise.

In particular, Article 4 (3) obligations to prioritise the views and opinions of Disabled Persons’ Representative Organisations (DPROs) in disability-proofing and anything else relating to the CRPD (GC7, paras. 13-4, 23, 56), has been stubbornly ignored by public bodies, including the “lead” Department, that of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and youth (DCEDIY) (GC7, para. 35).

A clear distinction should be drawn between DPROs and non-DPRO actors. The views and opinions of DPROs, which are specifically disability rights organisations, must be prioritised over disability service-providers, the National Disability Authority (NDA), ally-organisations, and fragmented voices of independent disabled individuals. The unmediated collective voice of disabled constituencies, through a Human Rights approach, are what matters. Even disability service-providers are to closely consult and actively involve DPROs in their own advocacy – as opposed to undermining our fledgling space and trying to embed themselves in institutional State structures as the primary consultees and experts (GC7, paras. 51-2). The potential conflict of interests of service providers in also claiming to “represent” their service-users is an issue that should be obvious to all, and is noted by the UN Committee (GC7, para. 13).

In June, 2021, DCEDIY told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters that the next NDIS would be all about implementation of the CRPD. In the intervening time, DCEDIY has continued to effectively ignore VVI and other DPROs, with the latest excuse on December 6th, 2023, being that DCEDIY’s Disability Policy Unit is not “public-facing.” This is to ignore the clarification by the UN Committee (November, 2018) that States parties should ensure that DPROs have easy access to DCEDIY, as the focal point of the CRPD (GC7, para. 41).

In June, 2023, DCEDIY decided it finally had the time and resources to put together the next NDIS, based on implementation of the CRPD. The first principle it decided was that it was better to get a few Articles of the CRPD right in the next strategy rather than getting them all wrong, and in July-August, 2023, it held a self-selecting opinion-poll on what five or so areas were to be focused on. This opinion-poll was inaccessible to screenreader-users, so the general obligation of accessible communications (Article 4 (1) of the CRPD) did not make it as one of the five winners in this talent-contest of Human Rights.

Even though accessible communications are of immediate effect in terms of implementation, we may have to wait another seven to ten years before we have a chance to enter this core issue in another talent competition for basic rights. In the meantime, we can expect to find it difficult to read accessible information on what progress, if any, is being made in the five winners of the Human Rights popularity contest.

To copper-fasten its aversion to Article 4 (3) obligations of direct consultation with DPROs, DCEDIY outsourced its consultation on the next NDIS to the National Disability Authority (NDA), as intermediary, in a process which promises to distinguish the various type of category of actors, including DPROs. However, the NDA is also ignoring the obligation to prioritise the views and opinions of the collective voices of the respective disability rights organisations (DPROs). Moreover, the outsourced process prevents discursive engagement and feedback between the State and DPROs, and gives the power of interpretation and prioritisation to the NDA as intermediary filter.

In sum, this very consultative process on CRPD-implementation is not, itself, CRPD-compliant. The rules of engagement included that each of the first three answers to the set questions was to be five hundred words or less, and the last question was to be three hundred words or less.

Our submission reflects our frustration with the State’s failures to date, and with the non-CRPD-compliance of this consultation – i.e., not compliant with Article 4 (3) of the CRPD, as clarified by GC7.

Question 1: What changes do you see as important to ensure that disabled people in Ireland are fully included in society in line with the vision of the UNCRPD?

VVI’s focus is on visually impaired people (i.e., those of us who are blind or partially sighted), although there are cross-sections of a wide range of other impairments and conditions among our membership.

On the everyday level, the changes needed for the full inclusion of visually impaired people in society can be categorised under four themes.

1.1. Two-way Accessible Communication.

This particularly encompasses Articles 4 (1), 4 (3), 5, 9, 19 and 21 of the CRPD, but in effect, cross-cuts every single article of the CRPD for us. Examples include access to bus-routes, travel timetables, planning maps, planning for national emergencies, access to justice, applications for jobs and benefits, education, health-care, and political and cultural rights of equal access.

VVI requests that this be a whole-of-government pillar of the next NDIS in its own right. It is also of fundamental importance to the Deaf community, people who are hard of hearing and people with intellectual disabilities.

If it is not a pillar in its own right, it needs to be the primary cornerstone of every single pillar and strongly emphasised across all public bodies not responsible for the pillars.

Our Manual on Accessible Communication (VVIMAC), costs little or nothing to implement – it is just a matter of awareness and systems planning:

1.2. Accessible and Safe Travel and Built Environment.

€290m is being spent on “Active Travel” in 2024, and this, as well as the entire €600bn of the National Development Plan must be CRPD-compliant through disability-proofing through DPROs. Instead, an avalanche of disabling and hazardous projects are being rolled out nationwide, and these will be expensive to reverse, and they will need to be reversed.

As above, our policies are of little or no cost if implemented at design stage, and are a matter of awareness:

Planners’ Checklist for Accessible Streetscapes

VVIMAPS – Manual for Accessible Public Spaces

VVIMAPP: Manual of Accessible Planning or Pedestrians

1.3. Accessible Technology.

Easy access to such technology should not depend on employment status. Under Article 4 (1) of the CRPD, as well as Arts. 9 and 21, such access is a Human Right, also very much linked to 1.1 above.

1.4. Cost of Visual Impairment.

Taking inflation into account, the Indecon Report (2021), commissioned by the State into the cost of disability, regarding visual impairment, must be addressed. Cost of disability payments should not be related to employment status, and should be non-means-tested and non-taxable.

See our pre-budget ’24 submission on the Cost of Visual Impairment and solutions

1.5. Awareness of Social and Human Rights Model.

On a wider level, there needs to be awareness-raising about the social and Human Rights models of disability among public bodies, NGOs (including disability-service providers), and among disabled people themselves and their families (CRPD, Art. 8). In particular, Article 4 (3), as clarified by General Comment No. 7 (GC7) needs to be given its full weight (i.e., cross-cutting obligation with immediate effect), including exclusive deep consultations with DPROs, and prioritising of DPRO views and opinions in consultations.

Disability-proofing consultations must be CRPD-compliant, and this protection needs to be enshrined in law. This enables disabled people to come out from under the tails of disability-service-providers in particular, and to develop confidence in representing our own interests and empowering ourselves, with State supports such as core-institutional funding of DPROs. The collective voice should never be aggregated with individual voices or those of non-DPROs.

From this change flows a lot of other changes in culture and attitude to be mentioned in next sections.

Question 2: What needs to happen for these changes to be achieved?

2.1. Bigger doesn’t mean better in consultations.

Broad consultations can include Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, but Article 4 (3) – deep – consultations on disability-proofing everything is wholly predicated on DPRO-only consultations at that deep level. While this is strongly implied in GC7, paras. 44, 49, it is a logically necessary conclusion to everything else being clarified by the UN Committee in the General Comments.

Interviewing a thousand individuals is costly in terms of the State’s resources, including processing of such information etc., and at best, an individual can only hope to have their contribution as a sound-bite, if it makes it through at all to the final report. Moreover, fragmented contributions are more likely to lack consistency and are likely to leave more room for interpretative power by the public body, not always in the best interest of our accessibility. Similarly, service-providers have their place – i.e., as service-providers, and they should not be allowed to have their eating of DPRO lunch continue to be entertained by the State (cf. GC7, paras. 13, 51-2).

2.2. There must be awareness by all public bodies, including the NDA and DCEDIY of the need to prioritise the views and opinions of DPROs in disability-proofing (GC7, paras. 23, 13-4), and in monitoring frameworks (GC7, para. 56).

2.3. Without prejudice to the above, there needs to be a distinction between views/opinions and rights.

2.4. Awareness-raising among disabled people and their families to get them to join already-existing DPROs, or to set up their own if there is none already representing their constituency. Duplication should be discouraged.

2.5. Awareness-raising among disability-service providers and ally organisations.

They need to become aware that in their own advocacy work, they need to be closely consulting and actively involving DPROs (GC7, para. 14), instead of trying to undermine the DPRO space with their own “advocacy” networks, which divert disabled people from their DPROs, and take away from our talent-pool, as well as the rights—based platform that guarantees our full access and empowerment.

2.6. Capacity-building of DPROs.

Core institutional funding and easy access to (and targeting of DPROs) for other funding is essential, but we need other capacity-building to get around infrastructural barriers, such as setting up a collective bank account and becoming a CLG. Note that currently we do not, as Human Rights organisations, have to become charities, but current legislation going through the Houses of the Oireachtas would change this, making life for us far more onerous. We propose, instead, a totally separate corporate category of DPRO, which is in keeping with the criteria set out in GC7.

2.7. Disability-proofing by DPROs must be made a mandatory step for all policies, plans and legislation (GC7, paras. 65-6), or at least in the meantime, for this to happen in key areas.

2.7. DPROs need to be immediately included, in a meaningful way, in the National Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals (GC7 etc.).

2.8. Disability-proofing cannot be an add-on.

Disability-proofing must be a cornerstone of all new plans and designs, and DPROs be allowed to set the agenda for necessary retrofitting disablist designs and plans.

Question 3: What would a successfully implemented strategy look like? For example, how do you think life should have improved for disabled people in Ireland at the end of a five-year strategy?* (Maximum 500 words)

3.1. DPROs won’t have to keep trying to explain to public bodies the difference between DPROs and service-providers etc., and that as rights-based organisations under the CRPD, DPROs have a particular legal standing in disability-proofing that needs to be seriously engaged with. We can then have much more time to do lots of other important things.

3.2. DPROs won’t have to be constantly looking over our shoulder to see how disability service-providers or other NGOs are trying to shaft us directly or indirectly – by appropriating our DPRO space and muddying the waters. Indeed, disability service-providers will be accountable to us (Cf. GC7, para. 14).

3.3. Our policy documents will be read widely by State employees in the relevant key positions, and they will be implemented. They cost hardly anything to implement, and this is mainly just a matter of awareness. Such documents will be seen as a really useful resource that help public officials to ‘colour by numbers’ in terms of accessibility in terms of the needs and rights of visually impaired people.

3.4. When we go to the trouble of organising collective positions that prioritise those with least resources and supports, this collective voice will not be aggregated or otherwise ignored, and instead, public bodies will be engaging with us in a genuine, meaningful and discursive way in a process in which VVI learns as well as the public body.

3.5. Related to this, there will be bilateral meetings by public bodies with VVI on matters specific to, or focusing on, the accessibility rights and needs of visually impaired people.

3.6. Because of the above, we will have lots of meaningful and fulfilling work for our reps to do, and be in a position to pay them for their work. VVI itself should be paid for our specific consultations as well as receiving adequate core institutional funding.

3.6. We will have thriving local sections of VVI from which new reps can get experience and which can feed into our national structure – as per our Constitution. This might be contrasted with 31 different local visually-impaired groups not adhering to any common standard etc., in local consultations with Local Authorities etc. On this point, DPROs will also have their views and opinions prioritised regarding disability-proofing in all PPN-related work, and have first refusal on Strategic Policy Committees.

3.7. Given all the above, VVI talented representatives will be in abundance, since they won’t be being diverted off into sheep-fold alibi structures of service-provider fake representation (cf. GC7, paras. 13-4, 51-2).

3.8. We will have the resources and capacity to ably represent individual members in their individual experiences of discrimination, and to further feed those experiences into our policies. We will also have the capacity and resources to train our reps and officers regarding the social model and Human Rights approach to disability.

3.9. On the most immediate level, we will be able to travel safely anywhere, independently, and have the same access to information as our sighted comparitors.

Question 4: If you have any other views that are relevant to the new National Disability Strategy please tell us? (Maximum 300 words)

4.1. NDA as Obstacle.

Currently there’s a catch 22, because the NDA and DCEDIY are not fully aware, themselves, of their Article 4 (3) obligations, as exemplified by this very consultation, which itself is not CRPD-compliant because it is not explicitly prioritising the views and opinions of DPROs (GC7, paras. 13-4, 23). “Prioritise” does not mean “involve,” “include,” or even ‘distinguish contributions according to source-type (DPRO, ally, service-provider, individual disabled person etc.).

As per para. 23 of GC7, prioritising our collective views and opinions – which is, itself, a Human Right of obligation on public bodies – also means explaining to us, i.e., VVI, in a detailed way how our views were considered and accepted or otherwise.

In the framing of the questions, and limiting of our DPRO submission to 2,000 words, along with all other non-DPRO contributions, either contempt or ignorance has been shown to the UN’s clarification of the meaning of Article 4 (3).

The NDA being used by DCEDIY as a buffer from dealing directly with DPROs, and as an intermediary for filtering and sorting our views and opinions along with everyone else’s in a pretence of legitimate authority, which is unaccountable and non-CRPD-compliant, ironically deeply undermines the consultative process (Article 4 (3)) for what is supposed to be a CRPD-based strategy.

But with more than 40 employees, and a budget of more than €6m for 2024, the NDA cannot be an objective participant, since the acknowledgement and granting of our full rights necessarily diminishes the sham authority of the NDA. However, such self-preservation by the NDA is short-sighted, because whether it is through the Optional Protocol or the UN Committee report, accountability to the CRPD processes is only a matter of time. That process does prioritise the views and opinions of DPROs.

As a public body, like any other, the CRPD places on the NDA the same obligations as any other public body, and gives the NDA no more authority nor recognition than any other public body. Accountability and teeth in disability-proofing our State can only come through Article 4 (3) and 33 (3) of the CRPD, as clarified by General Comment 7, as well as through the international organisational processes laid out in the final third of the CRPD.

More of the same, in terms of the NDA’s role, will get us no further than we are today, except with possibly even more money being wasted on the NDA.

Unlike the NDA, we don’t get paid to waste our time.

Unlike the NDA, we have a specific role provided for in the CRPD. The NDA, itself, as a public body, is supposed to be fully accountable to DPROs, in terms of disability-related policy and accessibility-proofing.