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Accessible ATMs in Ireland to go from Few to None

Introduction

Since the 1980s, accessible automatic teller machines (ATMs), which allow customers to withdraw cash from their bank through a ‘hole in the wall’ at any time, have been a staple part of the banking experience for people throughout the world, including in Ireland. Despite the trends and pushes towards a cashless society, the ATM option is still taken for granted by the vast majority of people with accounts in the traditional banks.

In many developed countries of the world, this access has also been extended to visually impaired customers through audio (text-to-speech) feedback via headphones, i.e., through the provision of a working earphone jack on ATMs. However, in Ireland, this right of visually impaired people to access their own money on the same terms as their fully sighted comparitors has been very much the exception, and certainly not the rule.

Today, In the Republic of Ireland, only Ulster Bank has accessible ATMs. However, Ulster Bank is due to leave the Republic’s market in early 2023, leaving the country with no ATMs, whatsoever, accessible to visually impaired customers

Ulster Bank ATM
Ulster Bank ATM, Main Street Blanchardstown

Photo (above) of Ulster Bank accessible ATM with headphone jack and text to speech (TTS) – Main Street, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15.

Ulster Bank’s Model Practice in the Republic

Ulster Bank describes its audio functionality on ATMs as follows:

“The ATM talk feature is available on all our ATMs when using the following services:  Balance, Cash, Cash with receipt, Mini Statement, Emergency Cash.”

Ulster Bank

Information is heard through your own headphones once plugged into the ATM via the headphone jack. The number 5 key on the keypad must be pressed before you insert your card into the ATM to activate the audio function.

The screen will go blank keeping your details secure from others who may try to see your information when using the feature.

Full instructions are voiced to you at each stage of the transaction including how to use the service.

Positions of Other Banks, Recently and Today

In the past twenty years, in the South, other forays were made into the provision of accessible ATMs by other banks.

Danske Bank (Formerly National Irish Bank) had accessible ATMs with a headphone socket with text to speech functionality from 2005 until their closure in 2012. For example, many blind and partially sighted users recall using the atm on Dublin’s O’Connell Street.

Article from September 2005 discussing National Irish Bank’s six-month accessible atm pilot in Baggot Street, Dublin.

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/talking-atm-to-help-visually-impaired-access-their-cash-25966038.html

Allied Irish Bank (AIB) has a headphone jack on all its ATMs, however, text to speech functionality is not enabled on any of them. The AIB Branch in the Dundrum Shopping Centre (The Lab) had an accessible ATM with headphone jack and text-to-speech from 2012 until 2016. 

In a query to AIB, in June 2017, regarding the national rollout of accessible ATMs, AIB said, 

“We did have this on trial on the ATMs in the Lab and it worked well, however as this was only a trial it has not been in operation on the Lab ATMs for almost 12 months.  At present we are not in a position to roll the solution out to all ATMs, but it is on our development plan.  We plan to revisit this later in 2017 at which point we hope to have another upgrade completed that will enable us to progress the Talking ATM solution.”

AIB

But nothing happened. In August 2022, AIB stated 

“There are no plans to upgrade them to include this on the ATM’s currently. All our ATMs have an adopted keypad that has a raised pip on the number 5 button.  They also have new universal raised icons on the function keys for Enter, Clear and Cancel.”

AIB

It should be noted that while tactile interfaces are an accessibility prerequisite for visually impaired customers on all bank card machines (including ATMs and contactless payment facilities), without being able to ‘read’ what is on the screen, transactions for any customer would be virtually impossible. As such, without the text-to-speech function being enabled, visually impaired people are expected to be telepathic in order to know what options are being displayed on the screen; or in other words, the ATM, and their own money as cash, is inaccessible to us.

AIB ATM
AIB ATM with headphone jack

Photo (above) of AIB ATM with headphone jack but no text to speech.

Bank of Ireland, told VVI, in August, 2022,

“At present there are no plans to introduce this service. We “At present there are no plans to introduce this service. We do however keep our service / functionality offering under ongoing review and Text to Speech has been added for consideration”.

Bank of Ireland

The Irish League of Credit Unions was contacted by VVI at the same time, and we still await a response.

KBC Bank Ireland told us that,

“KBC do not have any ATMs as we are a cashless bank, so unfortunately would not be able to advise you ATMs with this function”.

KBC Bank Ireland

Permanent TSB tell us

“ATM’s do not have a text to speech feature”.

Permanent TSB

The Situation in Britain and Northern Ireland

Mirroring AIB operations in the South, we are informed, regarding AIB Northern Ireland, that, “Our ATMs in NI do not provide speech guidance via a Headphone Jack”.

With regard to Barclays Bank, if you pop in your location online or by app, it’ll bring up all the branches and ATM’s in that area.  You can then select ‘filter’ and “Internal or External with Audio” and this will narrow down all the accessible ATM’s in that area.

Branch finder link: https://barclays.co.uk/branch-finder/

Accessibility link: https://www.barclays.co.uk/accessibility/sight/

Danske Bank (Northern Ireland) told us that, 

“Our ATMs do have an earphone jack with text to speech function to assist our customers with vision restrictions.”

Danske Bank (Norther Ireland)

Example locations in Belfast would be Lanyon Place Railway Station and Castlecourt Shopping Centre.

Halifax UK tell us that:

“You should be able to select the audio function at most of our ATMs.  Just plug in your standard headphones to hear what’s on the screen. Some of our older cash machines don’t offer this yet, and we’re changing these. Ask someone in branch or give us a ring to find your nearest Talking ATM.”

Halifax UK

HSBC UK tell us: 

“Yes, we have Talking ATMs. Talking ATMs are easy to use. Plug Yes, we have Talking ATMs.  Talking ATMs are easy to use. Plug in your headphones and you’ll receive audio prompts rather than having to read the ATM screen.”

HSBC UK

How to access it: You just need your bank card, PIN and a standard pair of headphones (3.5mm jack).

https://www.hsbc.co.uk/accessibility/visually-impaired/#atms

Lloyds UK tell us:

“You can select the audio function (Talking ATMs) on our Cashpoints. Just plug in your standard headphones to hear what’s on the screen.  Our older machines may not have this service, but we are working to update them.”

Lloyds, UK

Natwest UK tell us:

Our own brand ATMs do have the option with an earphone jack and can be used as follows.

  1. You need to have a set of earphones which you plug into the ATM.
  2. You will then hear instructions of how to use the machine and what to do to get started.
  3. You need to activate the audio functionality by pressing the number 5 on the keypad before inserting your card.
  4. The machine will voice out what you need to do and the options to press on the ATM keypad to make your choices.
  5. The screen will go blank to provide you with privacy so none of your details are visible

The full details of this can be found on our website under Talking ATMs.

https://supportcentre.natwest.com/Searchable/1168848672/What-is-a-talking-ATM.htm

The earphone jack would be below the place to insert the card on the machine, to the right-hand side of the screen.

Santander UK tell us that they are “glad to advise that our machines do indeed have this functionality.”

The Situation in Germany

Commerzbank: Awaiting reply.

Deutsche Bank: Awaiting reply.

DKB tell us, “We do not offer this service”.

DZ Bank: Awaiting reply.

HypoVereinsbank – UniCredit tell us:

“Our ATMs do not have a earphone jack or TTS. But you can ask in the respective branch for a so-called blind foil incl. explanation via audio CD.”

HypoVereinsbank

Santander Deutschland: Awaiting reply.

Sparkasse Germany tell us:

“Most of our ATMs are equipped with an earphone jack and a text to speech. The number-pads also have braille.

Sparkasse Germany

European Accessibility Act (EAA)

In the Republic of Ireland, regulation and accountability should be on the way, according to the EU Directive known as the European Accessibility Act (DIR (EU) 2019/882), which means that all self-service terminals such as ATMs will have to be accessible to visually impaired people. But given Ireland’s record of doing the minimum required when it comes to transposition of rights-based international law, a worst-case scenario could see Ireland deferring of the compulsory installation of accessible ATMs until after June, 28th, 2025, and for inaccessible ATMs to be kept in operation until June 28th, 2045.

Ireland was obliged to have the EAA transposed to Irish law by June 28th, 2022, but when VVI last asked the Dept. of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth about its progress, on July 7th, this year, we were informed that there were some technical legal difficulties which had delayed its implementation.

As we’ve been doing since July, 2021, We reminded the Department that VVI (as a Disabled Persons Organisation, a.k.a., representative organisation, or “organization of people with disabilities”), needs to be closely consulted and actively involved in the transposition of the EAA (as per Article 29 (b) of the Act, and Article 4 (3) of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

The Department has an abysmal record regarding its obligations under Article 4 (3) to closely consult with and actively involve VVI in such decision-making processes, let alone discharge its more general functions under the same Article, but we are hopeful that the State will begin to mend its ways and acknowledge VVI’s rights, as a representative collective, under international law.

Conclusion

As visually impaired people, we salute the best practice consistently employed by Ulster Bank, but it is a shameful commentary on attitudes to accessibility in the Republic that with the departure of Ulster Bank from the market, there will be no more accessible ATMs in the country. It can be seen by the above comparisons, in particular with the UK jurisdictions, that the Irish banking sector is a total laggard when it comes to accessible ATMs, and from the lived experience of our members, things do not improve much in other aspects of the banking service in the Republic, either.

Ulster Bank should never have been the odd-one-out in terms of ATM accessibility, in the first place. Light-touch regulation of the banks go back to Thatcherism in Britain and the North, and yet, this has not meant that the rights of visually impaired people have been neglected in terms of ATMs, at least.  So, it is not credible that the Republic’s infamous light-touch regulation of the banking sector can be said to be the only reason for its abysmal record on accessible ATMs. 

VVI expects its right to be prioritised (as a DPO), in consultations on the pending transposition of the European Accessibility Act, where, among other things, we would advise that the obligation of all operators in the banking services industry to provide accessible ATMs be given a much swifter timetable, especially in recognition of what we’ve had to put up with for the past forty years or so in this regard.

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Ireland’s Climate Action Plan Discriminates Against Visually Impaired People.

The Below was submitted by Voice of Vision Impairment (VVI) as part of a broad public consultation on Ireland’s Climate Action Plan, 2024, which is the annual updating of a general policy framework called the Climate Action Plan. Submitted on April 5th, 2024.

  1. Executive Summary.
  2. Who We Are.
  3. The Role of DPROs.
  4. CAP 24 Consultation Process is Inaccessible.
  5. Ignoring of Disability-Proofing in CAP 24 Process.
  6. Some Substantive Issues.
  7. Reversing CAP-Related Policies of Disablement.
  8. Concluding Questions.

1. Executive Summary.

Ireland’s legally binding Climate Action Policy, which is a policy framework currently based on 2021 legislation, is in violation of Ireland’s legally binding obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which oblige the State to disability-proof all policy frameworks through close consultation and active involvement of disabled people through Disability Rights Organisations.

  • CAP 24 cannot be fit for purpose when CRPD-compliant disability-proofing is absent. Visually impaired people all over Ireland are already suffering as a result of the ignoring of this aspect of ‘just transition’, such as:
  • streetscapes are being made inaccessible to visually impaired pedestrians;
  • requirements for many of us for door-to-door journeys in blue-badge vehicles, and often also by taxi, are being made unduly difficult or impossible;
  • inaccessible information and systems mean that blind and partially sighted people are being discriminated against in the transitions of the energy-consumptions models;
  • non-targeted subsidising of household energy charges does not take account of the extra energy-consumption needs of disabled people;
  • even the supposed consultation processes around annual plans, including Climate Action Plan 2024 (CAP 24), have not been disability-proofed as per CRPD, and so, not surprisingly, they are inaccessible to Voice of Vision Impairment (VVI) as the collective voice of visually impaired people.

2. Who We Are.

Voice of Vision Impairment (VVI) is Ireland’s national Disability Rights Organisation for visually impaired people (i.e., people who are blind or partially sighted). Our exclusive representative role comes from Article 4 (3) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), as clarified by the UN Committee in General Comment No. 7 (GC7). We refer to Disability Rights Organisations as Disabled Persons Representative Organisations (DPROs), but the same organisations are also generally known in Ireland as Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs).

Article 4 (3) of the CRPD is a cross-cutting general obligation, and it tells us that the State, in disability-proofing policies and designs, must closely consult with and actively involve disabled people through their representative organisations, as defined by GC7.

In particular, DPROs must be distinguished from disability service-providers (the traditional charity brand-names which comprise the Irish disability sector), since such organisations have potential conflicts of interests in trying to advocate and simultaneously provide services for disabled people (GC7, para. 13).

DPROs are run, led and directed by disabled people, and mainly membered by disabled people. They must be based on promotion of the Human Rights of disabled people, and so, they cannot be disability service-providers.

Legal Opinion, Commissioned by VVI, regarding DPROs as the only representative organisations with regard to disability.
https://vvi.ie/legal-opinion-for-vvi-as-a-dpo-for-all-dpos/

3. The Role of DPROs.

According to General Comment No. 7 (GC7), Disability-proofing should take place from the concept stage of any policy framework or design, and this process should be discursive, and not one-off (GC7, para. 28). Crucially, DPROs are to have our views and opinions prioritised over non-DPROs to the extent that we alone should be the consultees in close consultations regarding disability-proofing, with anyone else who is interested being able to participate in broad consultations where such are deemed appropriate (cf. GC7, paras. 23, 44, 49).

4. CAP 24 Consultation Process is Inaccessible.

Public bodies should be systematically approaching DPROs to disability-proof everything they do (GC7, paras. 22, 65-6). Not only has this not happened regarding the Climate Action Plan (CAP) to date, but the documentation provided is not adequately accessible to screenreader-users, and as such, our observations are based on information that was extremely difficult to access and process using screenreading technology.

We ask that the Dept. of Environment Climate and Communication (DECC) use the following resource going forward, and we are happy to answer any questions on it: https://vvi.ie/our-policies/accessible-communications-policy/6-electronic-documents/

5. Ignoring of Disability-Proofing in CAP 24 Process.

Throughout CAP 24, there are any amount of mentions of the legally binding obligations to carbon emissions etc. However, as laudible as these references are, when they take place in a context of the wholesale ignoring of the State’s legally binding obligations under the CRPD to closely consult with and actively involve DPROs in a uniquely special way, it is clear that there is a double standard when it comes to legally binding obligations – that is, that where they relate to disability that they can be ignored. This approach, which is widespread in Ireland, is either wholly ignorant of Ireland’s obligations under international law, or it is contemptuous of those obligations.

Given the environmental emergency context, it may be worth noting here that as part of its consultative obligations regarding disabled people, The State should have been closely consulting and actively involving DPROs since the ratification of the CRPD by Ireland in 2018, including with regard to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (GC7, paras. 9, 94 (r)). At this stage, if the State ever gets around to honouring these legally binding obligations, the consultations will necessarily be too little too late. To make up for time lost regarding disability-proofing, an extra urgency and impetus is needed into pausing everything until we get to be properly consulted, as per the CRPD.

The State needs to be approaching DPROs and consulting us from concept stage of everything (GC7, para. 15). The CAP is so far-reaching and systemic in application that lack of proper disability-proofing (as opposed to tokenistic platitudes, or as opposed to no engagement with DPROs at all, as has happened so far), Means that the CAP 24 document cannot be fit for purpose.

The “just transition” mentioned in Section 7 of the document is actually conditional on the legally binding obligations of Article 4 (3) of the CRPD being taken as seriously as the other legally binding obligations which get great mention in CAP 24. To ignore this would reduce “just transition” to being one-way spin by those who have little to no literacy in the social or Human Rights model of disability.

The language in the document should, of course, also have been disability-proofed by DPROs. Disability barely gets a mention in the CAP 24 document – i.e., nowhere is the word used apart from mention of disability parking facilities. The prevailing culture or attitude of the authors clearly wreaks of the ‘medical model’ approach to disability in the use of the language of “the elderly and less able in society.”

The social model of disability, on which the Human Rights model is based, holds that disability is a social construct, and as such, we are disabled (as a verb) by ignorance, bad design, neglect, prejudice, etc., and that is why we use “disabled people.” Euphemisms such as “less able” merely display an ignorance so bad that it dare not even speak the name of this social construct. Disability will not disappear by pretending it doesn’t exist or trying to wish it away. It must be tackled in a CRPD-compliant way.

In sum, CAP 24 cannot be fit for purpose when CRPD-compliant disability-proofing is absent.

6. Some Substantive Issues.

The National Transport Authority has led the way, chaperoned by a sympathetic Dept. of Transport, in the wholesale destruction of our accessible streetscapes and built environment more generally – except, in the case of the NTA, it was not even a case of not knowing about the CRPD, but rather one of a contempt for it (see Parliamentary Question from October 3rd, 2023):
https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2023-10-03/189/#pq_189

CAP 24 talks about evidence-based solutions. But Irish research into shared space conducted by TrinityHaus for the Centre for Universal Excellence and Design in 2012 has been totally ignored, as shared space between pedestrians and cyclists or e-Scooterists is being rolled out all over Ireland in so-called “Active Travel” projects.
https://www.tcd.ie/trinityhaus/research-areas/healthy-and-inclusive-places/shared-spaces/

This research-based warning against shared space is repeated in the British context in Holmes (2015).
https://chrisholmes.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Holmes-Report-on-Shared-Space-.pdf

The term “evidence-based” should not be used as mere spin, and nor should it be be used to cover an aesthetic or zeitgeist preference.

There appear to be sage nods of approval in CAP 24 when phrases such as “safe biking and walking” are responded to favourably by the public, but in the past five years, walking has become much more unsafe for visually impaired pedestrians as a result of this wholesale disablement by design. For a rights-based approach, see our Checklist for Planners:
https://vvi.ie/vvis-written-submission-on-irelands-next-disability-strategy/

This is, in turn, based on our Manual of Accessible Planning for Pedestrians:
https://www.vvi.ie/mapp

and Manual of Accessible Public Spaces
https://vvi.ie/vvimaps/

Our “Quality of life” has taken a nose-dive as our freedom to access our environment is increasingly restricted (in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, Articles 8 and 14).

Some of the diabolical and reckless designs include “raised crossings,” “continuous footways,” “table crossings,” “island bus-stops,” and “protected cycle lanes.”

As if it were not bad enough for our members as pedestrians, those who rely on blue-badge vehicles are finding their movement increasingly restricted by lack of exemptions to single blue-badge vehicles out from general traffic. Door-to-door journeys are crucial for our members, especially if the journey is not a routine one.

So-called ‘pedestrianisation’ makes it more difficult for our members to independently get exactly to where they need to go (whether being dropped off by taxi or blue-badge vehicle), and flush surfaces remove our underfoot wayfinding, for apparently no good environmental reason, but rather, apparently, for some aesthetic desire to copy European cities which are themselves mainly inaccessible to independent visually impaired pedestrians.

We also have to run the gauntlet of e-vehicles with no audio emissions from engines below 20kmph, something which needs EU legislation, but something to which Ireland bares equal culpability.

Other basic tenets of climate justice which should be incorporated into CAP 24 from a visually impaired perspective include:

  • a detailed action plan on accessible in-home displays for smart meters;
  • accessible subscription to vulnerable customer register;
  • fully accessible price comparison websites;
    https://vvi.ie/our-policies/accessible-communications-policy/5-accessible-websites-and-apps/
  • inclusion of visually impaired people in a revised Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme.

7. Reversing State’s Disabling Policies.

So far down the road has the State gone in total ignorance of or contempt for its CRPD obligations that The “High impact actions” we require may, at this stage, only come through the courts.

While DPROs should be represented on the Stakeholder council, And be at the centre of the National dialogue on climate action, these in themselves do not meet CRPD-compliance standards. DPRO-only spaces need to happen, immediately, for genuine disability-proofing of the policy framework, and no aggregation of DPRO views and opinions with those of non-DPROs – the roadmap to the process is in General Comment No. 7.

A non-CRPD compliant Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (DMURS) is not fit for purpose and is literally illegal. DPROs such as VVI have been utterly ignored in the disability-proofing of the document, and what little disability-proofing which did occur, happened in 2019 through the National Disability Authority (which is a public body, not a DPRO, and so doesn’t not comply with Article 4 (3) consultation obligations as a consultee in its own right).

Finally, the copious mentioning of research-based and evidence-based solutions in CAP 24 would nearly be impressive it it were not so transparently self-serving (e.g., ignoring of TrinityHaus research mentioned above). However, close consultation and active involvement of DPROs brings a different dimension to outcomes which is, by its nature, overlooked by usual research methods.

The Human Rights approach to solutions means that those with least supports and resources – who tend not to be captured by research companies to a substantive degree – are prioritised. This is because research tends to be majoritarian, and “the best for the most” is almost the polar opposite to the Human Rights approach. Research questions can be leading, and focus-groups often have leader-biases intrinsic to them. Those with least resources and supports – those who are most disabled – tend to be those least likely to be found in focus groups or responding to research questionnaires.

8. Concluding Questions.

Q1. Why has the State’s legally binding obligations to closely consult and actively involve DPROs in disability-proofing been ignored – certainly in so far as VVI is concerned, and we cover a significant constituency?

Q2. As a matter of urgency and emergency, what is DECC going to do to mend this astonishing and discriminatory oversight?

Categories
Disability Disabled people Submissions & observations

Landmark Decision in Equality Case Brought by Guide Dog Handler

A member of Voice of Vision Impairment (VVI) who was refused service at a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) emporium on Parnell Street, Dublin, on April 25th 2023, because she was accompanied by her guide dog, called Quilla, has had her complaint upheld in a decision by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), which is the body that hears such cases for adjudication in the first instance.

Maria Rosita Apaza Machaka brought the claim of discrimination against Scotco (RoI) Limited, owners of KFC in Ireland, after she was made to leave the fast-food restaurant having been refused service, because staff insisted that no dogs were allowed on the premises.

The adjudicator at the WRC found that there was inadequate training of KFC staff leading to the incident in which KFC workers on the evening did not know that guide-dog-handlers have a legal right to access services on the same basis as anyone else.

Dr. Robert Sinnott, Co-Ordinator of VVI, which assisted Ms. Apaza Machaka with her case, today praised the courage of the complainant. “This form of discrimination is so commonplace, but only a fraction of those affected by it actually stand up for their rights by making a legal complaint,” he said. “It needs to be realised by all service-providers that they are obliged to accommodate guide-dog-owners, and not discriminate against them, or else, they are liable to face the consequences.”

Landmark Case

The adjudicator awarded Ms. Apaza Machaka €2,000 to be paid by the respondent in compensation for the way she was treated, but significantly, that Scotco (RoI) Limited have to have their new disability awareness training programme checked by a “disability rights organisation.”

In Ireland, these organisations are known as Disabled Persons’ Representative Organisations (DPROs), or Disabled Persons’ Organisations (DPOs), and they are a relatively new phenomenon here. They must be founded with advancement of Human Rights at their core, and they must be led, directed, run, and mostly membered by disabled people, ourselves.

Traditionally, in Ireland, the brand-name disability service providers have claimed the mantle of being “representative.” However, in its clarification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which Ireland ratified in 2018, the UN Committee has made it clear that the only representative organisations regarding disability are DPROs, and that disability service providers may have a conflict of interest by putting their organisational interests before Human Rights in their advocacy.

As such, according to the UN Committee, disability-proofing requires that DPROs have their views and opinions prioritised over those of all other organisations, and be closely consulted and actively involved on a uniquely deep level in all disability-related consultations. Indeed, even disability service-providers should closely consult with and actively involve DPROs in their own advocacy relating to the CRPD.

“This decision brings Ireland that bit closer to practical recognition of the legal standing of DPROs as the experts in disability, and to compliance with Ireland’s obligations under the CRPD,” said Dr. Sinnott.

Voice of Vision Impairment is Ireland’s national DPRO with specific focus on the rights and needs of people with visual impairments (i.e., those who are blind or partially sighted).

The decision can be read in full at:

https://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/cases/2024/february/adj-00046352.html

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

Background.

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.
https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c9352-ireland-and-the-uncrpd/#:~:text=On%2010%20November%202021%2C%20Minister,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
https://vvi.ie/our-policies/vvi-planners-checklist-for-accessible-streetscapes/

VVIMAPS – Manual for Accessible Public Spaces
https://vvi.ie/vvimaps/

VVIMAPP: Manual of Accessible Planning or Pedestrians
https://www.vvi.ie/mapp

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.

Categories
Newsletter

Planning & Development Bill Must be CRPD-Compliant

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.

  1. Introduction.
  2. The Planning & Development Bill.
  3. Golden Opportunity.

1. Introduction

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.

https://assets.gov.ie/238598/e8eca089-3bce-4945-bf6c-24a4053cb4ff.pdf

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
https://vvi.ie/our-policies/accessible-communications-policy/

Manual of Accessible Planning for Pedestrians (VVIMAPP)
https://www.vvi.ie/mapp

VVIMAPS – Manual for Accessible Public Spaces
https://vvi.ie/vvimaps/

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.

info@vvi.ie

Categories
Newsletter

Voice of Vision Impairment Submission on Budget 2024

  1. Executive Summary.
  2. Introduction.
  3. State’s Legal Obligations regarding resourcing of DPROs.
  4. Funding Related to Disability-specific Services.
  5. Relative Poverty of Visually Impaired People.
  6. Mobility & Environment.
  7. Housing and Independent Living.
  8. Health.
  9. Education & Culture.
  10. Assistive Technology Scheme.

1. Executive Summary.

Some Key Asks by VVI in Budget 2024 are:

  • Registration and Proper Funding of DPROs (3)
  • Funding of Disability Service-Providers to be Conditional on their respect for Articles 4 (3) and 33 (3) of the CRPD.
  • For a Cost of Visual Impairment Allowance of €214 per week, per person, in line with Indecon Cost of Disability Report, and this allowance to be for all visually impaired people, non-means-tested, non-taxable, and in addition to all core benefits (5.1).
  • for core basic incomes to keep up with inflation, and for anomalies between such payments to be ironed out (5.2-6).
  • for information and application services to be accessible (5.7).
  • free public transport at point of use for all (6.1).

For streetscapes to be disability-proofed by DPROs as a precondition (6.2-3).

  • for the same incentives to own private vehicles to be available for visually impaired people as for wheelchair-users (6.5).
  • removal of VAT on guide-dog related costs.
  • for funding to be made available so that there are no visually impaired people homeless (7.5).
  • an end to all prescription charges for those on medical card (8.3).
  • for accessible educational texts (9.3)
  • for funding of an Assistive Technology Scheme for visually impaired people to access the latest technology in a way they can afford.

2. Introduction.

We are Voice of Vision Impairment (VVI). VVI is Ireland’s Disabled Persons’ Representative Organisation (DPRO) with specific regard to the Human Rights of visually impaired people.

According to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), A DPRO must have Human Rights campaigning at its core, must have a clear majority of its members with the particular impairment for the respective constituency being represented (visually impaired people in our case), and must be led, directed, and run specifically by such people.

The UN committee overseeing the CRPD notes that DPROs should have our views and opinions prioritised, in decision-making processes affecting disabled people, over all other civil society organisations, and especially over disability service providers (such as those funded under Sections 38 and 39 of the Health Act, 2004), since the latter may have a “conflict of interest” in trying to be service-provider and advocate at the same time (cf. CRPD, General Comment 7 (GC7), paras. 13, 14, 23, 56, 57 etc.).

As mentioned below in more detail, the State has, up until now, ignored its legal obligations towards DPROs, including those of supports and resourcing. As such, because of our relatively low resources and zero supports from the State or otherwise, VVI may not be able to produce submissions to the glossy standards of disability service providers. For example, we are relatively short on costings when it comes to our proposals, often due to the state-funded documentation being totally inaccessible to those of us using screenreading technology.

Our desiderata, below, are principles either directly mentioned in the CRPD, or as fitted by us to the Irish context of the lived experience of visually impaired people – an approach which prioritises the voice of the least resourced and least supported individuals, and which is a sum of the pooled experience and collective expertise of our members.

Note on Language:

We use “visually impaired” or “vision impaired” to describe people who are blind or partially sighted, respectively.

We say “disabled people” – with “disabled” being a verb, not an adjective – to highlight that while people may be born with impairments and diversities, “disability” is a social construct, meaning that people are disabled by bad design, planning, and attitudes, mostly caused by insufficient knowledge. This “disabled people” language is in line with the social model of disability embraced by the CRPD.

3. State’s Legal Obligations regarding resourcing of DPROs.

As part of the State’s obligations under Article 4 (3) of the CRPD, which took immediate effect in 2018 (cf. General Comment 7, para. 28), The UN Committee says that the State should ringfence core institutional funding for DPROs (ibid., para. 61 (d)), while ensuring DPROs are autonomous in deciding their advocacy agenda, despite the funding received (ibid., 61 (e).

Since, in Ireland, there is a strong historical legacy and tradition of non-DPROs (and in particular disability service providers) colonising the “representative” space, real representation (through DPROs) is in a fledgling state, and is operating in hostile territory. Since all of our representatives are themselves disabled, and since all our workers, including representatives, are volunteers, it is imperative that we receive appropriate supports from the State in our empowerment and capacity-building (ibid., paras. 13, 39.

To paraphrase the UN Committee: ‘The barriers faced by disabled people in accessing inclusive education compromise their opportunities and undermine their capacities to be involved in public decision-making, which, in turn, have an impact on the institutional capacities of their organizations. The barriers in accessing public transport, the lack of reasonable accommodation, and low or insufficient income and unemployment among disabled people also restrict the capacity of such persons to engage in civil society activities.’ (ibid., para. 59).

Asks (3):

  • That the DCEDIY set up a register of DPROs (ibid., paras. 44, 61, 94 (t)), along the lines set out by the UN Committee (ibid., paras. 10-14).
  • Genuine DPROs should then receive core institutional funding and regular information and other supports by the State in accessing all types of funding. Also, other supports may be required from the State by DPROs which don’t involve funding, and these should be determined through close consultation and active involvement of DPROs (ibid., paras. 60, 61, 80, 94 (b).

One source of funding suggested by the UN Committee is the national lottery (ibid., para. 64).

  • A policy and legislative framework is required to embed DPROs into decision-making processes, at all levels within the State (cf. ibid., paras. 94 (b, e, f, etc.), and this includes DPRO-only spaces at all branches and levels of government (ibid., para. 49).
  • Building Consultation with DPROs into Budgeting of all Statutory Bodies should be an earnest objective, but for this to be comprehensive, our capacity-building is a prerequisite.

4. Funding Related to Disability-specific Services.

4.1 Additional Funding for Disability Service Providers.
4.2. Specific Services and Accountability (context and ask).

4.1. Additional Funding for Disability Service Providers.

The Dep. Of Health’s Disability Capacity Review (July, 2021), shows the massive extent to which the State currently relies on charities to provide core and essential services to disabled people. Not only is this outsourcing of responsibilities by the State to private NGOs less amenable to accountability, transparency, and scrutiny – in contrast to services directly provided by the State – for example, through integrated Universal Design –on a very basic level, Human Rights should not be dependent on charity.

Ask (4.1):
At a minimum, any additional State funding of disability services needs to be disability-proofed by DPROs (see Article 4 (3) of the CRPD as clarified by General Comment 7); and Public Sector Equality Duty in the Human Rights Commission Act (2014, S42).

Such disability-proofing must have as a precondition of State funding to disability service providers that they are not directly or indirectly interfering with the representative rights of DPROs, for example, as set out in the CRPD (see General Comment 7, para. 51).

In other words, State funds must never be allowed to be spent on anything that directly or indirectly undermines the capacity of DPROs. This includes, for example, any facilitation and funding of advocacy by disability service providers (paying the lobbyist), and ensuring that all State funded operations that inform visually impaired people about disability service providers must also inform them about their DPROs, and facilitate their joining of DPROs.

Funding of Section 38 and 39 service-providers should also be contingent on such organisations closely consulting and actively involving the relevant DPROs in their own work (GC7, para. 14).

4.2. Specific Services and Accountability (context and ask).

Braille as an Example:
There are three providers of braille transcription services in the country, and public authorities generally pay for these services when they receive requests from citizens looking for materials in braille.

Such service-provision must meet the requirements of the end-user, and not be dictated by the service-provider. For example, a coalition of braille transcription service providers, in 2013, decided that they would suddenly change from producing all documents in Standard English Braille to producing all documents in Unified English Braille. There is only two clicks of a mouse in the production software interface between the two. This wholesale and steadfast change seriously discommodes most visually impaired people who have learnt braille before 2014, and is discriminatory.

Where contracts exist with these contractors, they must be regularly reviewed with close consultation and active involvement of the relevant DPRO(s), and in particular with VVI (cf. VVI’s Policy on Accessible Communications, Section 5).

5. Relative Poverty of Visually Impaired People.

5.1. Cost of Visual Impairment.
5.2. Core Basic Payments.
5.3. Non-Contributory Pension.
5.4. Anomalies Between Different Payments to Disabled People Capital Disregards.
5.5. State Benefits as Taxable Income.
5.6. Blind Welfare Allowance (BWA).
5.7. Accessible Application Processes for State Benefits and Awards.

5.1. Cost of Visual Impairment.

In December, 2021, the long-awaited INDECON report into the cost of disability (commissioned by the State), was finally published. The cost of disability to those who have a severe vision impairment (i.e., who are blind), was said to be between €9,805 – €10,565 per annum.

It is important to note here that much of what was being measured was the extra costs of being disabled by lack of universal design – i.e., being disabled by disablist planning, design, and other decision-making.

Even forgetting for a moment the inflation which has hit the country since the publication of the INDECON Report, we believe these costings to be a massive underestimation for two reasons:

i). The INDECON Report did not factor in that blind people are fifteen times more likely to be without paid employment than their sighted comparitor. Being unemployed due to institutionalised discrimination not only has a clear negative impact on income, but has concomitant knock-on effects which were not covered in the report. In other words, being “unemployed” is a cost in itself.

ii). the methodology of the research inadvertently, but necessarily, excludes visually impaired people with the least resources and supports – i.e., those with the highest disability costs. For example, the quantitative side of the research was based on online surveys, which necessarily exclude visually impaired people on the other side of the digital divide (which is common, for example, when people lose their sight), as well as for those who do not have adequate internet access.

Since publication of the Indecon report, annual inflation has been about 7%, so the headline figures can be presumed to have similarly increased in the meantime.For visually impaired people, the yearly cost of visual impairment could, therefore, be set at a conservative baseline of €10,800-€11,500, or to round it off, €214 per week.

The extra cost ofvbeing disabled by society because of our visual impairments is universal – i.e., borne by those on all income levels. A precondition of our equality in society is that our socio-economic disadvantage be addressed.

Some visually impaired people are currently in receippt of the Blind Welfare Allowance (BWA), which is €66.70 per week on the individual rate. A reformed BWA could become the vehicle for a Cost of Disability Allowance for visually impaired people.

Ask (5.1).

  • That a Cost of Disability Allowance of €214 per week be paid to all people with a severe visual impairment (i.e., those of us with 6/60 or less in sight measurement – in line with Ireland’s definition of ‘legally blind’); and that this payment be non-taxable and non-means-tested, applying to visually impaired people of all ages, equally.

5.2. Core Basic Payments.

As mentioned above, according to the 2016 Census, at least 76% of those with a severe visual impairment in the relevant age-brackets are not in paid employment. Whereas Welfare payments are generally kept low as an incentive for the recipients to seek paid employment, the institutionalised and practical barriers to paid employment are clearly too high for visually impaired people for this approach to be justifiable. As equal Irish citizens, we deserve dignity of life and equal opportunity.

Inflation:
The blind tax allowance was reduced in 2010 from €1830 to 1650 and it has stayed there since. Clearly, this is not keeping up with inflation.
Prices have been rising on an annual basis since April, 2021, with annual inflation rates of 5% or over, since November, 2021 (cso.ie). While annual inflation stood at 9.1% inAugust, , 2022, and effectively 10.8% for the most socio-economically disadvantaged, as of July, 2022 (Social Justice Ireland), core disability benefits only went up by 4.3% in the last budget (i.e., considering that the increases were not implemented until January 1st, 2023). Disabled people on non-contributory pensions got a meagre core increase of 4.9%, which was well behind inflation.

While disabled people under the age of 66 received one-off payments of €908, and the fuel allowance was raised by 32%, – as well as the €600 universal credits – these helped with energy costs during a time of exceptionally high energy inflation, but did not impact on general inflation hits to disabled people.

The annual inflation rate for August 2023 stood at 6.3%, but for those most socio-economically disadvantaged, this rate was estimated to be at

Asks (5.2):
to mitigate against the current institutionalised disabling of people from our right to employment, and our consequent impoverishment; at the very least, core disability-related benefits need to be increased to meet the increased cost of living of their recipients. This also includes a reparation of their impoverishment in Budgets 2022 and 2023, as well as future-proofing against the expected continued inflation for 2024. In effect, this amounts to a minimum of 20% increase in Blind Pension and Disability Allowance. At a bare minimum, disability benefits should be brought to match the non-constributory State pension.

  • Likewise, the non-contributory Pension needs to keep pace with inflation, and similarly, a 20% rise is the minimum to make up for empoverishing budgets of the past two years.

5.3. Non-Contributory Pension.

Because of the inaccessibility of means-testing for most visually impaired people, the State’s forcing us to jump from Blind Pension or Disability Allowance to the Non-Contributory Pension as we reach 66 years of age poses a significant challenge, and one that relies on the help of third parties – which in turn compromises our security, as well as GDPR rights in conjunction with reasonable accommodation rights.

Also, forcing someone to do this based on a particular age cut-off point is surely discriminatory on the grounds of age, and quite unnecessary.

Ask (5.3):

  • That visually impaired people be allowed to continue collecting Blind Pension, Disability Allowance, or other disability-related core payments, for as long as they need, without having to shut that door and go through the threshold of the non-contributory pension process.
  • that the non-contributory pension rate be raised to meet minimum living standard requirements and to counter inflation.

5.4. Anomalies Between Different Payments to Disabled People Capital Disregards.

Currently, the basic capital disregard for anyone applying for or in receipt of the Disability Allowance is €50,000, counting to €70,000; but equivalent disregard for people in receipt of the Blind Pension or Non-Contributory Pension is €20,000 counting to €40,000.

Such an anomaly is unjustifiable, and appears to have arisen from oversight. Furthermore, it is at least indirect discrimination on the grounds of disability, given the practical difficulties confronting anyone in receipt of the Blind Pension if they wish to opt to collect Disability Allowance instead.

None of these capital disregards have taken account of inflation since they were introduced.

Another disablist anomaly can be illustrated in the scenario where a parent has exercised responsible duty by ensuring that a visually impaired child receives an equal share of the estate in their will. Indeed, the parent might want to leave a greater proportion to the disabled child, according to cushion or alleviate their long-term needs (such as extra costs of living and less overall independence). As things stand, perhaps in most cases, such a bequest would mean that the visually impaired child would have to give up their State benefits until they have run through the capital left to them by their dutiful parent. This might be contrasted with a non-disabled sibling who is likely to be in employment, and can invest the capital and get the full benefit of it.

Other Anomalies Regarding Rates and Circumstances

  • There are no disregards for partners or spouses on Blind Persons Pension, but some disregards for these in relation to Disability Allowance.
  • While on Disability Allowance, full Medical Card entitlements are allowable up to an income of €427 per week, but with the Blind Persons Pension, no extra earnings income is permitted for a recipient to retain their Medical Card benefits.

Ages of Eligibility of Benefits

The number of recipients of the Blind Pension has decreased by 23.5% between 2015 and 2022, from €1,341 to €1,026 (Oireachtas.ie, PQ 84, 22.5.17). This can be explained by the relative advantages of the Disability Allowance, not just in terms of the capital disregard already mentioned, but also because the Disability Allowance is receivable from the age of 16, whereas the Blind Pension is eligible from the age of 18.

This anomaly, whether or not a result of oversight, can only lead to the dwindling to zero of the number of recipients of the Blind Pension. The ESRI report (2018) based on the Quarterly Household Report returns of 2017, found that visually impaired people are ten times more likely to be on the receiving end of discrimination than any other disability (apart from psycho-social impairments, which are still behind visual impairment in this regard). As such, the retention of a specific core payment to cater for the needs of visually impaired people is advisable.

Asks (5.4):

  • that all capital and income disregards for visually impaired people in receipt of State benefits be changed to being uncapped or unlimited. This would cost the State nothing, but would alleviate life-long impoverishment of many visually impaired people. At the bare minimum, all such capital disregards should be equalised and substantially raised.
  • that all other anomalies that put visually impaired people in receipt of benefits other than the Disability Allowance be ironed out so that they are no longer discriminated against in this regard.

All of these anomalies are unjustifiable, and appear to have accrued by neglect rather than design. In particular, the Blind Pension should be put on a par with the Disability Allowance in all respects as soon as possible. Since there are only slightly more than a thousand people in receipt of the Blind Persons Pension, fixing these discrepancies should not be onerous.

  • that visually impaired people be eligible for the Blind Pension from the age of 16 (as with the Disability Allowance).

5.5. State Benefits as Taxable Income.

The Blind Pension and Disability Allowance, respectively, are classed as taxable forms of income, which effectively means that in many instances, increases in rates of such payments, as well as supplementary benefits such as Living Alone Allowance, and Household Benefits Package, are cancelled out by rent increases by Approved Housing Bodies and Local Authorities, which are calculated based on taxable income.

Ask (5.5):
No disability-related payment should be a taxable income for visually impaired people.

5.6. Blind Welfare Allowance (BWA).

BWA is provided by the HSE to blind people living independently who are “unemployed”, at a current rate of €66.70 per week for a visually impaired individual, and €120 per week for a blind couple. The potential for BWA to be transformed to becoming a universal cost of visual impairment payment for all visually impaired people is mentioned in 4.1 above.

Currently, an eligibility component of the BWA is “a letter from the National Council for the blind of Ireland (NCBI)…NCBI is the national sight-loss organisation. They can confirm whether you meet the criteria to register as blind” (hse.ie).

However, as we understand it from the NCBI itself, the NCBI is in no position to confirm whether someone meets the criteria of being blind – this being an ophthalmological determination, and because there is no longer a “register” for blindness at the NCBI or anywhere else, for that matter.

Also, the designation of the NCBI as “Ireland’s national sight-loss organisation” is self-declared, and in violation of the CRPD, and does not belong on State-produced material, such as the HSE website (hse.ie).

Asks (5.6):

  • that Blind Welfare Allowance no longer be classed as taxable income, and not to be included as income in any means-testing. It is there to help counter the cost of disability, not as a luxury.
  • In the absence of any other compensatory mechanisms commensurate with the cost of visual impairment, the Blind Welfare Allowance should be increased to €214, in order to meet the costs of visual impairment and to help counter the inflationary situation the country finds itself in, and it should be available to all visually impaired citizens, without reservation or condition.
  • Any reference to the NCBI regarding Blind Welfare Allowance should be removed from the State’s information on eligibility criteria.

5.7. Accessible Application Processes for State Benefits and Awards.

As Visually impaired people, we have the right to independently access our entitlement to supports and services, including those relating to social protection (cf. CRPD, Article 9 (1). However, as mentioned earlier, application processes involve paperwork which is often not independently accessible to visually impaired people.

This means that not only do visually impaired people find it incredibly difficult to apply for their Welfare entitlements (as already mentioned), but they are also far less likely to avail of more specialist or one-off supports for the same reasons. Examples of such specialist or one-off application processes include:

  • Medical Card application and review/renewal
  • Reasonable Accommodation Fund
  • Back to Work Enterprise Allowance
  • Short-term Enterprise Allowance
  • VJT 61A (Revenue Commission’s form for tax-back on assistive or accessibility-related products regarding visual impairment).
  • Technical Aids Grant
  • Disabled Persons Grant Scheme
  • Housing Adaptations Grant
  • Mobility Aids Grant
  • SUSI (third level education grants)

Ask (5.7):

In close consultation and active involvement of VVI, all relevant public bodies to create a system based on Universal Design, which builds reasonable accommodations, as a default, into their regulations and standard operating procedures.

  • Also, many visually impaired people – especially where there has been recent sight-loss – will not be able to access information on what they are entitled to. Statutory bodies need to have incorporated into their budget a social work service that will let visually impaired people and other disabled people know what benefits they are entitled to, and to assist them in such applications with regard to that public body. This may be more efficient as a one-stop shop within the Department of Social Protection (DSP).
  • Public bodies should study our Accessible Communications Policy carefully, and embed the contents of this document in its structure and operating procedures:
    https://vvi.ie/our-policies/accessible-communications-policy/

6. Mobility & Environment.

6.1. Free Public Transport.
6.2. Active Modes of Transport.
6.3. Consultation on Sustainable Development Goals.
6.4. Visually Impaired Passengers.
6.5. Accessibility as a Precondition for Public Transport Licensing.
6.6. Removal of VAT on Guide-Dog Costs.

6.1. Free Public Transport.

The more that public transport fares are reduced to encourage the general public to use public transport, the less justifiable become the costs of ticketing and revenue protection on such services.

As things stand, ticketing is generally inaccessible to visually impaired people, and visually impaired people cannot independently identify revenue protection officers in a secure manner. Furthermore, some of our members have not been able to obtain the Public Services Card because they have found the application system to be inaccessible.

Ask (6.1):
We recommend that public transport be free at the point of use for all passengers. This not only makes the entire public transport system much more accessible to visually impaired people, but makes it more accessible for everyone. The savings in ticketing, revenue protection, and time costs, should ensure that the overall cost to the commonwealth is decreased, and by the same measures, that the greater public good is being served through encouraging more environmentally sustainable modes of travel. This remedy will require much higher investment in public transport infrastructure to meet the extra demand.

6.2. Active Modes of Transport.

Very often, it is not safe for visually impaired people to cycle, and for obvious reasons, driving a car is not legally or morally possible. As such, we depend on “lifts” from friends and relations (especially if living in the country); on walking, where possible; and on public transport. Walking requires safe and accessible streetscapes; is limited in terms of distance; and can make it more difficult to find one’s destination (e.g., a first-time specialist’s appointment and No. 83 Main Street, etc.).

As such, cycling and walking (active modes) are not remotely adequate in journey completion for visually impaired people as compared to the general population.

Like you, we have a Human Right to access our community and environment on an equal basis with everyone else. This means that we must be able to access all areas, whether by blue badge private vehicles, taxi, or bus, etc. Anything else (e.g., pedestrianisation) necessarily constitutes a disablist planning zone.

Ask (6.2):
As is our right as a DPRO under Articles 4 (3) and 9 (1) of the CRPD, we request that all funding on active Travel modes be contingent on accessibility audits that conform to Article 4 (3) of the CRPD – namely “close consultation and active involvement of…representative organisations” (i.e., DPROs).

A useful starting point is our Manual of Accessible Planning for Pedestrians (MAPP):

https://www.vvi.ie/mapp

This precondition will have long term cost benefits, since it will facilitate the independence (economic and otherwise) of our ageing population, as well as fulfilling the State’s obligations to our DPRO members.

6.3. Consultation on Sustainable Development Goals.

The UN Committee points out that part of the States obligations to “closely consult and actively involve” DPROs (as per Article 4 (3) of the CRPD), relates to, for example, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (2030) (General Comment 7, paras. 9, 92, 94 (r)). So far, in Ireland, this obligation has been neglected or otherwise ignored, across this entire area, including the Climate Action Plan.

Ask (6.3):
In line with the State’s obligations under Article 4 (3) of the CRPD, and with the Public Sector Duty (IHREC Act, 2014, S42), disability-proofing, through close consultation and active involvement of DPROs, needs to be a precondition of any funding related to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

6.4. Visually Impaired Passengers.

The EU Parking Permit scheme for disabled drivers and passengers means that blind passengers (along with severely physically impaired passengers/drivers) have disabled parking rights.
However, particularly in rural areas, where visually impaired people do not have adequate access to public transport, we are often totally reliant on being driven to doctors’ appointments, to community events, to work, etc. Unlike our sighted comparitors, we do not have the option of cycling. Similarly, in a household, where both parents would be able to co-ordinate school-runs etc., where one parent is visually impaired, the availability for work of the other partner is often compromised by having to make such school-runs or drop children off to bus-stops etc.

Ask (6.4):
Visually impaired people have a comparatively restricted ability to engage in “active modes” of transport, and as such, it is an anomaly (and discrimination on the basis of disability) that we are not also eligible for the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme, which provides a range of tax reliefs linked to the purchase and use of specially constructed or adapted vehicles by drivers and passengers with a disability. Visually impaired people may not need adapted vehicles, but the necessity of their being driven should be reflected in the same tax reliefs and toll exemptions, i.e., as set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 (SI 353/1994) as amended.

6.5. Accessibility as a Precondition for Public Transport Licensing.

There has been a trend, in recent years, towards the further opening up of public transportation to private operators. It is essential that such licencing by the National Transport Authority (NTA) is dependent on accessibility to disabled people in general, and from our perspective, to visually impaired people.

Ask (6.5):
That all future license-granting by the NTA to private operators be dependent on disability proofing in line with Article 4 (3) of the CRPD.

6.6. Removal of VAT on Guide-Dog Costs.

A guide dog is an aid to visually impaired people, both for independent living and mobility. As such, the costs of maintaining them should be vat exempted, as is the case for adaptive technology, which also can be seen as an aid to independent/living/mobility.
Currently, users of guide-dogs must pay 23% VAT on everything necessary for the maintenance of the guide-dog (such as dog-food which is of prime quality for working dogs).

Ask (6.6):
VAT should be removed from all purchases (including payment of services) necessary for the maintenance of guide dogs (both working and retired).

7. Housing and Independent Living.

7.1. Needs of Visually Impaired People in being Allocated Housing.
7.2. General DPRO Prioritisation in Consultations.
7.3. Housing-Related Data.
7.4. Minimum of 2-bed Allocations for Visually Impaired Individuals.
7.5. Homelessness.
7.6. Home Supports.
7.7. Caution Regarding Individualised/Personalised Budgeting Strategy.

7.1. Needs of Visually Impaired People in being Allocated Housing.

Currently, there is no agreed standard as to what constitutes Universal Design in State-supported housing – notwithstanding an out-of-date paper by CEUD, in 2013). The prevailing ethos (e.g., DHLG, Disability Housing Strategy, 2022), concentrates on accessibility for wheelchair users (which, of course, in itself is essential). However, Universal Design must also take account of the needs of visually impaired tenants, and to that end, Article 4 (3) of the CRPD is once more a statutory obligation. In other words, it is an obligation under international law that the State prioritise DPROs, in general, regarding the compilation of a Universal Design standard, but that in particular, with regard to visual impairment, VVI is prioritised on all levels.

Also, the designation of Approved Housing Body status to any disability service provider in this respect, against the wishes of DPROs, is necessarily repugnant to the CRPD.

Ask (7.1):

  • That the Housing Agency “closely consult with and actively involve” VVI in a statutory minimum standard on “Universal Design” as applied to public and private housing, with regard to new builds, and state-subsidised retrofitting.
  • That no AHB status approval be given to any disability service provider without this first being agreed with the relevant DPROs. In this case, since VVI is the national DPRO concerning visual impairment, specifically, VVI must be closely consulted and actively involved, as well as our views and opinions prioritised, in such consideration.

7.2. General DPRO Prioritisation in Consultations.

Currently, there is no provision for prioritisation of the “views and opinions” of DPROs (General Comment 7, para. 23), nor distinction of DPROs (ibid., paras. 13-17) in the Disability Housing Strategy (2022-7).

As with section 2, above, it is an obligation on the State to make sure that DPROs are afforded those rights, including in what is often referred to as ‘stakeholders’ in the area of housing, and this must be remedied in order for Ireland to be compliant with its obligations under the CRPD (Article 4 (3) and 19). This will also involve an obligation for Local Authorities to capacity-build DPROs.

Ask (7.2):
That the DHLG, Housing Agency, and Local Authorities have distinct and prioritised consultations with DPROs regarding housing and disability.

7.3. Housing-Related Data.

Currently, the DHLG have shoe-horned Deaf, Deaf-blind, hearing impaired, neurodiverse, and visually impaired people into the one category, i.e., “sensory impairment”, and even worse, the medical model language of “people with a sensory disability”.

Impairments in sight and hearing have totally different consequences. The impacts, apart from the general disabling by society, are chalk and cheese. Lumping these categories in together might be handy from a disinterested statistician’s perspective, but not where one is interested in the actual differences in housing take-up and subsequent results.

Ask (7.3):
That the DHLG be required to separate its statistical categories according to the various types of sensory impairment (Deaf, hearing impaired, deaf-blind, and visually impaired), as well as a separate category for neurodiverse people. This will allow additional funding, where necessary, to be targeted, not only in usual housing services, but also in terms of homelessness services.

7.4. Minimum of 2-bed Allocations for Visually Impaired Individuals.

Many visually impaired individuals in public housing have no choice but to remain in hospital when recovering, thus, inadvertently “bedblocking”, since they live alone in 1-bedroom dwellings, and as such, cannot have full-time care from extended family, community, or professionals in their own home. Generally speaking, also, visually impaired people living alone may require more room to house assistive technology, guide-dogs, and more room to avoid trip-hazards, such as placement of clothes-dryers etc.

Ask (7.4):

  • That Housing allocation for visually impaired individuals allows them a minimum of 2-bedroom dwellings.

7.5. Homelessness.

Homelessness is a terrible situation at the best of times, but 26% of people suffering from homelessness are also disabled (ESRI-IHREC, Discrimination and Inequality in Housing in Ireland, 2018). This over-representation, as with other inequalities, is not coincidental.

Asks (7.5):

  • that visually impaired and other disabled people be fast-tracked out of homelessness as a priority.
  • that in close consultation with VVI, that homelessness authorities identify those homeless accommodation facilities which are most accessible to visually impaired people, and that placements be made, as priority, accordingly.

7.6. Home Supports.

Many people with a visual impairment require additional assistance with tasks that others might think as straightforward, such as cleaning of rooms, assistance in travelling, and even simple DIY tasks such as safely changing a lightbulb, the railing or re-railing of curtains, replacing a fuse in a plug, etc.

VVI has published a position paper on traditional home support services (December, 2021):

However, there are two areas which need more investment from the State in this regard: namely, personal assistance for visually impaired people; and the provision of tradesperson-related assistance.

In terms of personal assistance, visually impaired people may require assistance, such as in browsing in their local library, including more specialist possibilities such as the need for a personal assistant to be proficient in a second language, such as Irish. Such additional support requires more investment in personal assistance provided by the State. In terms of assistance to visually impaired people, in particular, remote personal assistance, such as that provided by AIRA, should be seen as an intrinsic option supported by the State, where preferred by the visually impaired person.

In terms of tradespeople, some tasks are more specialist. For example, the pressure on the water may be low, but a visually impaired person cannot access the interface on the boiler to raise it; or on some makes of washing-machine, the filter is at the back, and cannot easily be removed when required to be cleaned –causing a breakdown in the washing-machine.

Asks (7.6):

  • That more investment be made in PA hours for visually impaired people, including, where sought, remote PA services, such as those provided by AIRA.
  • that a system of State-subsidised trades in the home be organised with a view to providing solutions to emergency and daily needs of visually impaired and other disabled people.

7.7. Caution Regarding Individualised/Personalised Budgeting Strategy.

In its prebudget submission (July, 2022, p.9), the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Disability Matters writes:

“The Committee believe that funding strategy needs to move to individualised funding and a needs-led system where an assessment of people’s needs would be undertaken to allow for direct resource allocation to meet the needs of each person. Those could be personal care needs, social inclusion needs, etc. The Government must implement the personal budgets pilot to enable a model of delivering disability supports as a personalised budget which has autonomy, independence, and community inclusion for people with disabilities at its core”.

We have concerns about this approach, from a visually impaired perspective. Apart from the bureaucratic costs in determining individual budgets, which can be arbitrary and be a fiasco, as with the PIPS in Britain, visually impaired people are often denied access to the so-called free market by virtue of the fact that advertising and availability of services is not communicated in a form accessible to us. Also, clearly, different parts of the country will have varying qualities and amounts of service-provision if things are left to the ‘free market’, and indeed, if a Regulator, down the line, is necessitated, things get even more bureaucratic in terms of wasted resources.

Ask (7.7):
That nothing be done regarding a change of funding strategy to personalised budgets without prior close consultation and active involvement of DPROs (including VVI).

8. Health.

8.1. Accessible Health Services.
8.2. The Medical Card.
8.3. Medical Prescription.
8.4. Public Eye-Care Services.
8.5. Basic Health Needs for All.

8.1. Accessible Health Services.

Throughout Ireland’s health service, there persists basic and universal inaccessibilities and disablist practice. For example, we often hear of hospitals complaining about ‘no-shows’ of outpatients for medical appointments; but it is our experience that accessible communications from hospitals to visually impaired patients (e.g., as per the Disability Act, S28), are the exception rather than the rule, and have to be fought for by the outpatient, on each and every occasion.

Similarly, medical staff rarely appear to have received adequate training in how to safely guide a visually impaired person or to understand other access needs.

In terms of systems, The systems set up for vaccination and antigen-testing for covid are intrinsically inaccessible to visually impaired people – with VVI’s offers to advise on our needs from the outset being effectively ignored by the HSE and Dept. of Health.

Ask (8.1):

  • Adequate funding must be identified for the adequate training and setting up of accessible communications systems by medical staff and institutions, as well as public authorities, themselves.
  • in all funding and contracts, a stipulation must be the provision of accessible services and communications: cf. VVI’s Accessible Communications Policy
    https://vvi.ie/our-policies/accessible-communications-policy/

8.2. The Medical Card.

Context and ask: Given the extra costs of being visually impaired, often involving greater need to use health services, all visually impaired people should be eligible, by default and without means-testing, for a general services medical card.

Because restoration of lost vision is an infinitesimally rare occurrence, and because renewal processes are intrinsically inaccessible to many visually impaired people, visually impaired people should have indefinite entitlement to the medical card.

8.3. Medical Prescription.

Medical prescription charges of €1.50 are charged to medical card holders getting items on prescription from pharmacies. Such a tax is regressive, since it cuts at the poorest in society; and it is also cruel, since it penalises medical card holders for their reliance on essential medicines or medical products. This latter point also means that by its nature, the charge is disablist.

Prescriptions regarding medicines for long-term conditions are currently required to be renewed by the service-user every three to six months, creating much unnecessary bureaucracy, as well as unnecessary hassle for the person with the long-term condition.

Ask (8.2):

  • That all medical prescription charges be dropped for medical card holders (which would, effectively, be a return to the situation as it was in 2009 and before).
  • that prescription-renewal obligations for medicines pertaining to long-term conditions be got rid of. When the patient dies (and the prescription comes to an end), the pharmacy concerned can be required to refund the State the amount it has received from the State in lieu of the medicines acquired, but unused, for that particular prescription.

8.4. Public Eye-Care Services.

A VVI member has a congenital eye syndrome (microphthalmia), but was also diagnosed with cataracts in 2016. The pre-existing syndrome means that a cataracts operationis not a straightforward procedure, and requires very experienced and specialist consultants. However, he remains an outpatient at a regional hospital, and appears to have been forgotten about. In the meantime, the cataracts is embedding itself in his eyes, making it more difficult to successfully remove without bleeding, infection, or detached retina. The prognosis for him saving any sight is not good.

Ask (8.4):
that Ireland’s Third World public system for eye clinics be properly resourced to meet the First World expectations of our ageing population. Such investment will necessarily save money in the long-run as it helps to prevent life-changing experiences of total loss of sight, and the distresses and need for support services which accompany that loss.

8.5. Basic Health Needs for All.

Our members find that if they are on the Medical Card, they may be charged by their local General Practitioner for basic blood tests. As such, many of our members are being discouraged from getting tested for conditions such as diabetes, or cancer etc.

Similarly, visually impaired people, especially those on medical card, find it difficult to access adequate dental care.

Asks (8.5):

  • that funding be made available so that all blood-tests of Medical Card holders are free of charge.
  • that there be close consultation with VVI in the provision of adequate dental care for visually impaired people.

9. Education & Culture.

9.1. Habilitation and Rehabilitation.
9.2. Accessible Educational Texts.
9.3. Third Level Education Supports.
9.4. Talking Books should be VAT-free.
9.5. TV license exemption to all visually impaired people – whether in receipt of State benefits or not.

9.1. Habilitation and Rehabilitation.

In keeping with the concept of Universal Design (CRPD, Article 2), visually impaired children have a right to receive a full education that meets their practical needs (as well as academic needs), as an integrated part of the education system. This means that the State should be providing education of life skills specific to visually impaired children (such as mobility and orientation, as well as other practical skills such as use of assistive technology, braille, and summer courses such as cooking, for visually impaired children. Similarly, but separately, the same services should be provided, as a right, to adults who have lost their sight later in life.

Ask (9.1):

  • That for any visually impaired person in the education system, that visiting teachers (from the NCSE) be adequately trained in the provision of education involving life skills specific to visually impaired children and young adults; and that in terms of rehabilitation, that the State closely consult and actively involve VVI in the establishment of a State-run rehabilitation service, under the auspices of the DCEDIY.
  • since the most cost-efficient and accountable provision of such services are where they are functions of the State, where NGOs are currently providing such services to some extent, such provision should be seen as a transitional support while the State establishes its own standards in close consultation and active involvement of DPROs, and in particular, in this instance, with VVI.

9.2. Accessible Educational Texts.

We know anecdotally from third level institutions disability support units and from what data there is from AHEAD, that attendance at third level institutions by visually impaired students – and in particular, blind students – is the lowest of all disability constituencies (although, since there is nothing on deaf-blind participation, we would presume this to be very low indeed, if there is any participation at all).

From our own experiences in the education system (in all levels, up to FITAC Level 10), accessibility to even core texts is difficult, or non-existent. Often, where access to even core texts is provided, it does not happen in a timely manner, further disadvantaging the visually impaired student. Given this discrimination, which is intrinsic to Ireland’s education system, it is no wonder that there is such a relatively poor success rate among visually impaired students.

Asks (9.2):

note also that Duxbury (the software currently used by all Irish service-providers in braille-production, works from Microsoft Word, and so, production of braille texts from materials is really only practical when an accessible Microsoft Word version is the transcription-to-braille source.

  • the “Copyright Library” status of Trinity College Dublin should be extended to the National Library of Ireland, and as such; all books published in Ireland be required to lodge an accessible Microsoft Word version, and a .pdf version, of the book with the NLI, so that visually impaired readers can access such materials on demand from their local library.

9.3. Third Level Education Supports.

In the United Kingdom, visually impaired third level students are guaranteed a minimum of 20 hours personal assistance supports, which is totally separate to their data processing (text) supports. This personal assistance not only means that lectures are more accessible to us, but also that we can go for lunch and participate more fully in college life.

In Ireland, standards of accessible text provision as well as of personal assistance hours vary from institution to institution, but personal assistance tends to be only provided for taught courses, which excludes many post-graduate courses.

Visually Impaired students in Third Level may require very specialist personal assistance, such as knowledge of a particular language other than English, or knowledge of STEM abbreviations and charts, etc. The current rates of PA-pay for Third Level education supports is quite close to the minimum wage, and so, is not generally compatible with particular specialist needs.

In Section 4, we have already mentioned the evidence of systemic impoverishment of visually impaired people in general, and visually impaired students are no different in this regard.

Apart from the extra costs by Third Level students, generally, such as living away from home, etc., visually impaired people incur additional costs related to Third Level education, such as extra need for taxi services, more dependence on eating-out facilities, etc. Furthermore, since courses are more likely than not to be inaccessible, the drop-out rate of visually impaired people can be expected, reasonably, to be much higher than the norm.

In short, the current SUSI criteria for funding looks at previous Third Level experience as a negative marker where courses have been dropped. In the case of visually impaired people, this is disablist, because it is blaming the victim.

Asks (9.3):

  • that Third Level supports be standardised, including the provision of a minimum of 20 PA hours per student (including for all postgraduates).
  • that educational support workers (i.e., personal assistants) be directly employed by third level institutions, which will afford a much higher level of pay for their work, and attracting Pas with higher skill-levels.
  • that visually impaired students not be penalised by previous third level attendance in the awarding of SUSI grants.

9.4. Talking Books should be VAT-free.

Ask and Reason: 21% VAT needs to be removed from talking books (to match print book counterparts). This helps to address the difficulties in educational and cultural access experienced by blind people, especially having lost their sight later in life, and recognises the barrier to purchasing talking books caused by the systematic impoverishment of visually impaired people.

9.5. TV license exemption to all visually impaired people – whether in receipt of State benefits or not.

De facto this is the case anyway, since An Post has been thwarted in the Courts for trying to chase down blind people who had not officially been exempted. But visually impaired people should not have to worry about such things.

This is a good time to remind the State that the vast majority of television programming in Ireland does not have Audio Description, and so is inadequately accessible to visually impaired viewers/audiences.

Asks (9.5):

  • for all visually impaired people to be entitled to a free tv license or to be exempt from the requirement to have a license.
  • for State broadcasters in particular to have a minimum audio description output of 30% in 2023.
  • for such broadcasters to have accessible interfaces on apps and websites.

10. Assistive Technology Scheme.

VVI calls for Seed Funding for an Assistive Technology Scheme which would act like a lending library, where visually impaired people could test out devices to see if they would be suitable as long-term purchases.

as a basic step to using technology to empower visually impaired people in society, this national scheme would also be engaged in research, such as into the practical application of accessible digital signage, in close consultation and active involvement of VVI and other national DPROs.

Whereas, before, such technology may have seemed too expensive and not universal enough for widespread application, this landscape is rapidly changing, and Ireland should be at the forefront of utilising such technology to improve the lives of visually impaired people.

Possibilities not only include a national assistive technology library where visually impaired people can test out devices, but also to be considered should be individual accessible technology grants from lottery funds.

Currently, grants are available for visually impaired people to obtain technology once they have been offered a paid position by a public or private body, but given the scandalous unemployment rate of visually impaired people, most of us will not be in a position to be well used to such technology, at present, until entering the work-place, causing a catch 22 scenario. In keeping with Articles 4 (1) and 9 (2) of the CRPD, communications technology as a Human Right, needs to be seriously addressed by Ireland with regard to visually impaired people of all ages.

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Disabled Persons Representative Organisations (DPROs, The Basics.

  1. What is A Disabled Persons Representative Organisation (DPRO)?
  2. Who can be a member of a DPRO?
  3. Other (non-DPRO) Disability-Related Organisations.
  4. What Else does CRPD Say about DPROs?
  5. Are DPRO Rights currently recognised in Ireland?
  6. Who has the responsibility to protect the rights of DPROs?
  7. Have DPROs currently any say in anything that affects disabled people in Ireland?
  8. Are DPROs currently funded by Ireland?
  9. Language note

1. What is A Disabled Persons Representative Organisation (DPRO)?

1.1. DPROs are specifically founded to defend and advance the Human Rights of Disabled People (United Nations Convention on the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) General Comment 7 (GC7), para. 11).

1.2. DPROs cannot be Disability Service Providers or ally organisations (CRPD, GC7, Para. 13).

1.3. DPROs must be only led, run, directed, staffed, and mostly Membered by Disabled People, (CRPD, GC7, para. 11).

2. Who can be a member of a DPRO?

Primarily, any Disabled Person can be a member of a DPRO along the lines of the constituencies or impairments being represented by that DPRO.

DPROs can also be cross-impairment or intersectional, based on disability and other protected grounds of discrimination such as gender, marital status, family status, age, sexual orientation, race, religion and members of the Traveller Community (cf. CRPD, GC7, paras. 11-2).

3. Other (non-DPRO) Disability-Related Organisations.

3.1. Disability Service Providers.

Disability Service Providers are private Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who provide services to Disabled People, meaning they may have a conflict of interests in claiming to ‘represent’ disabled people (CRPD, GC7, para. 13.

So, Disability Service Providers cannot be DPROs, and indeed, DPROs should be distinguished from disability service providers and all other civil society organisations in consideration of any matter relating to disability by a public or private body, so that DPROs are clearly prioritised in consultations etc. (ibid.), even to the extent that there should be DPRO-only consultations in every branch and level of government (CRPD, GC7, para. 49).

3.2. Disability Ally-Organisations.

Another type of non-DPRO with regards to Disability are ‘Ally Organisations’, i.e., disability-related organisations who do not provide disability-related services, but who don’t otherwise meet the criteria for being a DPRO: e.g., led, run, directed, staffed and mostly Membered by Disabled People, and who may not be specifically set-up to advance the Rights of Disabled People. An example of this would be a network of parents of disabled children, relatives of disabled adults, or carers for Disabled People.

4. What Else does CRPD say about DPROs?

4.1. The only Representative Organisations regarding Disability are DPROs (CRPD, GC7, Part II, Section A), and as such, DPROs should be the first port-of-call in all consultations regarding disability, and the views and opinions of DPROs should be Prioritised by Public Bodies when addressing anything in relation to Disability, CRPD, Paragraphs 13-4, 23, 56), even to the extent that there should be DPRO-only consultations at all branches and levels of government (CRPD, GC7, para. 49).

4.2. Everything done by Public and Private Bodies should be Disability-Proofed, through DPROs, as a precondition for any Policy, Design, Law, etc., and this needs to be enforceable (CRPD, GC7, paras. 65-6).

4.3. Research should never be mistaken for consultation with DPROs, but even where research is undertaken into disability-related matters, obligations to closely consult with and actively involve DPROs regarding the agenda, questions and other aspects of the research, apply just as much (CRPD, GC7, paras. 17, 54, 77). For example, focus groups are not consultation, and cannot replace consultation, but focus groups should be predicated on prior obligations to DPROs.

5. Are DPRO Rights currently recognised in Ireland?

No, they are not. Even Ireland’s “focal point” of the CRPD, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) appears to be unaware of its own Obligations in this regard and also its own obligations to make everyone aware of the need to prioritise DPOs in all disability-proofing and other disability-related considerations.

6. Who has the responsibility to protect the rights of DPROs?

DCEDIY and all Public Bodies, as well as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) have the official responsibility of ensuring the implementation of the CRPD in Ireland, which is predicated on Articles 4 (3) and 33 (3) of the CRPD, as explained by the UN Committee, General Comment No. 7.

7. Have DPROs currently any say in anything that affects disabled people in Ireland?

DPROs are, at best, aggregated and effectively marginalised in occasional tokenistic consultations; but more generally, are systematically ignored. Rather than being approached by public bodies in a systematic way (CRPD, GC7, para. 22), DRPOs usually have to spend precious time and resources trying to explain what a DPRO is – a difficult task when DCEDIY continues to ignore its awareness-raising obligations as “focal point” of the CRPD in Ireland.

8. Are DPROs currently funded by Ireland?

As per the CRPD, DPROS must be State-funded, including with core institutional funding, while maintaining complete independence (CRPD, GC7, para. 61. However, since Ireland’s ratification of the CRPD (2018), DPO-specific funding and other necessary special supports, have still not been provided by the State.

Language note.

The UN Committee tends to use the language of the medical model of disability, so that it refers to DPROs as “representative organisations of persons with disabilities,” or just “organizations of persons with disabilities”, as well as “their representative organizations.” Up until recently, in Ireland, DPROs have been known as Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs).

For more detailed information, see detailed legal opinion on DPROs, commissioned by Voice of Vision Impairment (VVI).:

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European Disability Card

Submission by Voice of Vision Impairment Ireland (VVI) to the EU Commission

22nd December 2022

1. Introduction to VVI

VVI is Ireland’s Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO) specialising in the defence of and campaigning for the Human Rights of visually impaired people (i.e., people who are blind or partially sighted). DPOs is the general term used in Ireland for what the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) refers to as “representative organisations” (CRPD, Article 4 (3), or “organisations of people with disabilities (General Comment 7, passim.).

2. Need to Prioritise and Distinguish DPOs in Consultations

In accordance with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), Articles 4 (3) and 33 3)), DPOs must be closely consulted and actively involved in disability-related matters, such as this consultation; and as clarified by the UN Committee, in General Comment No. 7 (GC7), DPOs should be prioritised, in terms of their views and opinions as well as being first port-of-call, over all other civil society organisations in such processes, and this includes prioritisation over disability service providers (DSPs) (cf. GC7, paras. 13, 14, 23, 56, etc.).

This also means that instead of being aggregated in consultations, DPOs must be distinguished from all other civil society organisations (ibid., paras. 13-5).

It also means that consultations are ongoing, and not one-off (ibid., para. 28).

In this particular process, it is our experience that DPOs such as VVI have been totally ignored, and everything has been done through the Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI), which is an umbrella-group controlled by the disability industry in Ireland, and is as far as one could get from being a DPO.

No doubt this has occurred as a result of DFI being Ireland’s representative to the European Disability Forum, something which also needs to be sorted out, since non-DPOs should not be representatives to the EDF.

See post-submission note at the end of this document regarding the EU Commission’s neglect of its obligations under Article 4 (3) of the CRPD in this consultative process.

3. Language – European Accessibility Card

Before looking at the concept and accessibility features, language and terminology should be examined.

According to the social model of disability, which is espoused by VVI, as well as most of the rest of the global DPO movement, disability is a negative social construct, and not characteristic intrinsic to the disabled person. When we speak of disabled people, we mean ‘disabled’ in the verbal sense: i.e., that we are being disabled by bad design, prejudice, neglect, lack of understanding etc., rather than ‘disabled being used as an adjectival identifier. In this way, disability is comparable to ageism, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc., which are other negative social constructs.

So, disability is not an identity, but rather, a negative condition of discrimination. Humanity has a diverse array of conditions and physical and sensory impairments, but what disables us are the obstacles preventing us from accessing the world on an equal basis to what are imagined to be ‘normal’ people.

So, while the title “European Disability Card” follows the medical model of using disability as an identifier, and strongly suggests that the negative social construct is intrinsic to us, it is not appropriate.

In keeping with the social model of disability, a far better title for the proposed scheme would be “the European Accessibility Card”. Only disabled people would be eligible to possess such a card, but the extra accessibility it provides would help to mitigate against the socially-created phenomenon of disability – i.e., the disabling of us on a consistent basis by policies and design etc.

However, to avoid confusion, for the rest of this submission, we use European Disability Card (or EDC).

4. The Concept

4.1. Shortage of Recognised Equivalences from country to country

It has been noted by one of our members that in the UK, Italy and elsewhere, “if you can produce a card to say you have a disability you get discounts or better seating in theatres, etc.” But in Ireland, he has encountered the phenomenon of ‘if you don’t have a wheelchair then you’re not disabled’.

Our members who do not use mobility aids such as long canes or guide dogs are more likely to encounter such discrimination. Even when we travel to the UK or Germany, for example, we have nothing to show in lieu of a disability card.

Another VVI member showed his Irish Dept. of Social Welfare Free Travel Companion Pass at an exhibition in Berlin, but was told that this wasn’t recognised. This VVI member also noted that the disability card in Germany also includes free travel. This member then showed his Disability Parking Permit which is issued by the Irish Wheelchair Association and valid for parking in the European Union, and this worked for a concession, since it was recognised as a pan-European document.

Incidentally, this same VVI member had difficulties getting a companion rail ticket free of charge in Germany, since, for validation reasons, “you are required to obtain it from the rail company in your own country […Irish Rail…] Irish Rail), however [Irish Rail] closed their British and European Rail offices some time ago and outsourced it to a company who don’t want to know you”.

As we understand it, under the European Rules, the person with the disability is supposed to get a free ticket for their companion when they purchase a ticket. He goes on to make the observation that “Clearly, some type of pan European document was needed and many people already have the disability parking permit. Under European Union freedom of movement rules, we should be able to move and reside in another EU country with the same benefits.”. The problem appears to be current lack of mutual recognition among EU States.

Notwithstanding the UK examples above, the non-transferability of equivalents among EU states is a problem which appears already to be in breach of EU legislation and treaties. While a single European Disability Card would help to circumvent such current obstacles, the fact that such obstacles exist at all should also be dealt with.

4.2. The complication of having specific service cards

A VVI member cites the Cinema Exhibit Association (CEA) card for disabled people still operating in Britain and Ireland, which grants free entry of a guide/companion, for example, to visually impaired people. This can be the difference between accessing or not accessing a central point of culture in our community.

Source: https://www.odeoncinemas.ie/accessibility/cea-card/

4.3. Question of Criteria

Given that there is no common EU position on what constitutes vision impairment, let alone any other impairment or condition, should it be a case that the rules of a person’s own country apply?

4.4. Medium Term Measure

Ultimately, with proper implementation of universal design, the latter situation, at least, would be averted. As one of our members put it, “Having to go on to a register to get services because you have a disability, that’s discriminatory, like having to be registered blind…”.

So, it should be stressed that a European Disability Card is not an acceptance that the EU is diminishing, in any way, the obligations of universal design (CRPD, Art. 2), but rather, that it is about targeting interim supports and concessions in the public and private sphere, as a mitigation against the endemic institutionalised discrimination that currently exists, and which will take some time to melt.

5. Accessibility

5.1. Accessible Application Procedure

The following are necessary from a universal design perspective:

  • Application processes should be flexible in terms of communication types and easily and freely available to the applicant.
  • Multiple formats should be on offer, including combinations. For example, some people are happy using a combination of phone and email etc.
  • Any required documentation must be accessible by a visually impaired applicant. i.e., expecting a visually impaired person to source information from a third party when that third party refuses to provide said information in an accessible or useable format, the application process itself becomes inaccessible.
  • If photographic ID on the card is required, the process of obtaining and providing such ID should be independently accessible to visually impaired people.

5.2. The Physical Card

The card should contain Tactile and High Contrast Large Markings, and be distinctive from any other cards, so that even a sighted person could identify it by putting their hand in their pocket (i.e., without looking at the card).

5.3. Security

Since the card is likely to provide for concession rates, etc., is an item worth stealing. As such, the mechanisms by which a visually impaired person is expected to produce such a card should be very security-conscious. For example, a visually impaired person may not be in a position to positively identify the legitimacy of an official looking to examine such a card.

5.4. Virtual Card

For those who find it difficult to carry multiple cards, an app should exist whereby a disabled person can carry the European Disability Card on their smartphone. This could also be linked, via Bluetooth, so that neither the phone nor a card has to be openly displayed.

6. Scope

6.1. Free Travel

The card should cover free travel on public transport by sea, land and air. This would be analogous to the Free Travel Scheme in Ireland and the Disability Card in France, but using the best from both.

6.2. Accompaniment

A carer, or any other person accompanying a cardholder for the sake of assistance, should also benefit, equally.

6.3. Linkage to Social Services

The card should also include linkage to the EU 111 card or social services subject to EU data regulations.

6.4. Blue Badge and Equivalents

The card should be useable in the procurement of a ‘blue badge’ which allows for priority parking for disabled drivers and passengers.

Post-Submission Note

When making this submission through the online portal to the EU Commission, there was no option to declare that the submission was from a DPO. Instead, there was merely the options of “individual”, “NGO”, or “trade union”. As such, it appears that the EU Commission, in this consultation, ignores its obligations under the CRPD (cf. General Comment 7, para. 13), that DPOs be “distinguished” in consultations relating to disability. Beyond this, we can say that there is no evidence of the Commission implementing its obligation to “prioritise” DPOs in the consultation.

Furthermore, when making the submission as an NGO, the choices were:

Micro (1-9 employees)
Small (10-39 employees)
Medium (40-249 employees)
Or Large (250 or more employees)

Since VVI continues to get zero supports from the State, we have zero paid employees. So, even though we are a very relevant and legitimate NGO (as a DPO), it appears that if we read “employees” as meaning ‘paid employees’, then we would be de facto barred from making a submission.

Since VVI has 16 unpaid reps (representatives), we have put this as our number of “employees”, even though they are employed in their task in a voluntary capacity. We have had no choice but to take this interpretation of “employed”, since otherwise the choices would have disabled us from making a submission.

We urge the EU Commission to up its game in terms of its obligatory compliance with Article 4 (3) of the CRPD, since on the evidence of this consultation, at least, it does not appear to be aware of those obligations.

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Why Have Audio Announcements on Buses if they Cannot be Heard?

1. Introduction

1.1. Background

In the Republic of Ireland, next stop announcements on buses were first introduced in 2012, and rolled out fleet wide on Dublin Bus services in 2014. Next stop announcements are also to be heard on Bus Éireann and Go-Ahead Ireland services. Such next-stop announcements are invaluable to visually impaired passengers, since before the introduction of these announcements, we had to ask Drivers to let us know when we reached our required stop, and often, the driver would forget – leading us on a magical mystery tour not of our choosing, and causing us to be very late for our appointments or discombobulated on eventual arrival at our destinations.

It should be remembered that if a visually impaired person inadvertently alights at the wrong stop, they are in immediate danger, since we may be totally unaware of our surroundings, and if we think that we are at our usual stop, when we are not, the probability of acidents greatly increases.

For over two years, now, as a result of the arrival of covid, windows have been left open for ventilation on both diesel and hybrid buses, making it very difficult and, at times, impossible for blind or partially sighted passengers to hear next stop announcements. Not surprisingly, this is causing us to miss our stops.

The sound of the diesel engine, artificial engine noise (AVAS) on hybrid buses; as well as the sound of the road surface, traffic, other passengers talking and, indeed, rain, significantly adds to the problem.

This is both an issue for passengers seated at the disability area on the right (as you board the bus), as well as those seated elsewhere on the bus.

A range of measures were introduced in April and May, 2020, following the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic. These included blocking off seats to ensure social distancing, windows being left open for ventilation, and the wearing of face masks.

While covid-19 restrictions were largely lifted on February 28th, 2022, the legacy of windows being left open for ventilation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The volume for audio announcements is fixed at a predefined level which Dublin Bus Drivers have no control over.

Also, our members have been told by Dublin Bus that if next-stop announcements are inaudible, that the driver will tell them their stop if they let the driver know in advance. This position is clearly untenable, since if such a system was workable in the first place (prior to the introduction of the announcements), then no announcements would be needed.

Dublin bus signage to Keep Window open
Photo (above) – ‘Keep Window Open – Coimád an Fhuinneog ar Oscailt’ signage on Dublin Bus.

1.2. Examples

Some examples of difficult to hear next stop audio announcements include:

Dublin Bus Route H1 (Diesel) short recording of next stop audio announcements mentioning the following stops: Strandville Avenue, Newcomen Bridge and Amiens Street.

link: https://soundcloud.com/user-686460963/next-stop-audio-announcements-on-dublin-bus-route-h1-0m24s

Short recording of Dublin Bus Route 70 (Diesel) next stop audio announcements mentioning the following stops: Our Ladys Church, Kinvara Avenue, Ashtown Grove, Kempton, Ashtown Roundabout, Parkway Station and Peck’s Lane.

Link: https://soundcloud.com/user-686460963/next-stop-audio-announcements-on-dubin-bus-route70

Short recording of Dublin Bus Route 37 (Hybrid) next stop audio announcements mentioning the following stops: Parklands, Castleknock Road, Oak Lawn and Castleknock.

Link: https://soundcloud.com/user-686460963/next-stop-audio-announcements-on-dublin-bus-route-37-0m23s

2. Other Announcements Crowding Out Next Stop Announcements

2.1 Issues with information message announcements

Some information messages are causing next stop announcements to play late.

In addition to next stop announcements, Several other information messages currently play on Dublin Bus. These include:

  • a 30 second CCTV GDPR message;
  • an 11 second, “please hold the hand-rail” message; and
  • a 15 second “please stay behind the white line message”.

The messages are longer than they would be in English-only jurisdictions, since under the Official Languages Act (2004), messages are required to be in both English and Irish.

These play at random and the Driver has no control over them.

2.2. Examples

Dublin Bus ‘CCTV GDPR message’ (30 seconds).

Link: https://soundcloud.com/user-686460963/dublin-bus-cctv-gdpr-message-0m30s

Dublin Bus ‘Please Hold Handrail’ message (11 seconds).

Link: https://soundcloud.com/user-686460963/dublin-bus-please-hold-handrail-message-0m11s

Dublin Bus ‘Please Stay Behind White Line’ message 0m15s’

Link: https://soundcloud.com/user-686460963/dublin-bus-please-stay-behind-white-line-message-0m15s

3. Added Imminent Threat of Return to Covid Messaging

Initially, the covid response was all about limiting the numbers of passengers on buses: in March, 2020, covid-19 restrictions set a 25% limit on the number of passengers permitted to use public transport. In the case of Dublin Bus, this amounted to a limit of just 17 passengers.

However, in May, 2020, A 37 second covid-19 message was introduced. This was problematic because, in certain scenarios, these covid announcements were causing next stop announcements to play late, particularly at off-peak times, where it took buses much quicker to get from stop to stop, reducing the amount of available time in the interim for other announcements to be made.

Dublin Bus Covid-19 message playing from May 2020 until February 2022.

Link: https://soundcloud.com/user-686460963/dublin-bus-covid-19-message-0m37s

The audio announcement system is not configured to allow for information messages to be interrupted by next stop announcements. This has a particularly adverse effect during off-peak times of 2 and sometimes 3 next stop announcements playing one after another. In contrast, it is not an issue at peak time, due to traffic and a steady flow of passengers boarding and alighting at most stops.

An additional 45 second ‘Covid-19 mask wearing exemption message’, rolled out on Bus Éireann City Services, was also due to be rolled out on Dublin Bus and Go-Ahead in early 2022. However, this did not occur, following the lifting of restrictions in February, 2022.

Covid-19 mask wearing exemption message.

Link: https://soundcloud.com/user-686460963/mask-wearing-exemption-message-0m37s

4. Not Being Listened To, and Imminent Worries

VVI first raised this issue with Dublin Bus over 2 years ago, and while the removal of the 37 second Covid-19 message in February, this year, effectively resolved the issue, the 30 second GDPR message is now playing more frequently, and again leading to situations where blind and partially sighted passengers are missing their stops. Again, this is particularly noticeable when travelling off-peak.

We requested Dublin Bus to either remove or shorten the message to something like ‘CCTV is operating on this bus – Tá CCTV i bhfeidhm ar an mbus seo’.

VVI has also alerted Bus Éireann to the difficulties caused by these information messages, which, again, are particularly noticeable during off-peak times, when there is light traffic and passengers are not boarding or alighting at every stop.

We raised this issue with the National Transport Authority, at a meeting, in July, 2022; and also at the Accessibility Consultative Committee of the Dept. of Transport on September 6th, 2022; but we have received no adequate response. The NTA said it would make sure that “essential” messages were prioritised, without making it clear that next stop announcements would be prioritised over all others.

With the winter approaching, we are concerned about a possible reintroduction of the Covid-19 message and, indeed, the mask wearing exemption message.

A combination of all these messages will cause mayhem for passengers who are visually impaired, particularly when travelling off-peak.

5. Simple Asks

Bearing in mind the requirements under EU Bus Regulations – including Regulation EU no. 181/2011 and s.i. no. 635/2020); as well as the new EU standards on passenger information (EN 17478): the safety of visually impaired passengers cannot be compromised by their missing essential stop information in a timely manner.

Accordingly, we request the following:

  • that volumes of announcements always be adequate, bearing in mind ambience noise; and
  • that next stop announcements be given full priority, in practice, in announcements on all bus routes, over any other announcements.

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Voice of Vision Impairment Submission on Budget 2023

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

We are Voice of Vision Impairment (VVI). VVI is Ireland’s representative organisation with specific regard to the Human Rights of visually impaired people. In Ireland, organisations with this representative status (as per the Convention on the rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), are more often known as Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs).

A DPO must have Human Rights campaigning at its core, must have a clear majority of its members with the particular impairment for the respective constituency being represented (visually impaired people in our case), and must be led, directed, and run specifically by such people.

The UN committee overseeing the CRPD notes that DPOs should be prioritised, in decision-making processes affecting disabled people, over all other civil society organisations, and especially disability service providers (such as those funded under Sections 38 and 39 of the Health Act, 2004), since the latter may have a “conflict of interest” in trying to be service-provider and advocate at the same time (cf. CRPD General Comment 7, paras. 13, 14, 23, 56, 57 etc.).

As mentioned below in more detail, the State has, up until now, ignored its legal obligations towards DPOs, including those of supports and resourcing. As such, because of our relatively low resources and zero supports from the State or otherwise, VVI may not be able to produce submissions to the glossy standards of disability service providers. For example, we are relatively short on costings when it comes to our proposals, often due to the state-funded documentation being totally inaccessible to those of us using screen-reading technology.

Nonetheless, our “views and opinions” must be prioritised over all other civil society organisations by public authorities when it comes to disability (ibid., para. 23), and our desiderata, below, are principles either directly mentioned in the CRPD, or as fitted by us to the Irish context of the lived experience of visually impaired people – an approach which prioritises the voice of the least resourced and least supported individuals, and which is a sum of the pooled experience and collective expertise of our members.

Note on Language:

We use “visually impaired” or “vision impaired” to describe people who are blind or partially sighted, respectively. In this designation we are at one with the language of the CRPD. Our differentiation between “blind and partially sighted” (not blind and visually impaired), is at one with the language used by European Blind Union and the World Blind Union. However, first and foremost, this language reflects the prevailing opinion among our members.

We say “disabled people” – with “disabled” being a verb, not an adjective – to highlight that while people may be born with impairments and diversities, “disability” is a social construct, meaning that people are disabled by bad design, planning, and attitudes, mostly caused by insufficient knowledge. This “disabled people” language is in line with the social model of disability embraced by the CRPD.

As part of the State’s obligations under Article 4 (3) of the CRPD, which took immediate effect in 2018 (cf. General Comment 7, para. 28), The UN Committee says that the State should ring-fence core institutional funding for DPOs (ibid., para. 61 (d)), while ensuring DPOs are autonomous in deciding their advocacy agenda, despite the funding received (ibid., 61 (e)).

Since, in Ireland, there is a strong historical legacy and tradition of non-DPOs (and in particular disability service providers) colonising the “representative” space, real representation (through DPOs) is in a fledgling state, and is operating in hostile territory. Since all of our representatives are themselves disabled, and since all our workers, including representatives, are volunteers, it is imperative that we receive appropriate supports from the State in our empowerment and capacity-building (ibid., paras. 13, 39.

To paraphrase the UN Committee: ‘The barriers faced by disabled people in accessing inclusive education compromise their opportunities and undermine their capacities to be involved in public decision-making, which, in turn, have an impact on the institutional capacities of their organizations. The barriers in accessing public transport, the lack of reasonable accommodation, and low or insufficient income and unemployment among disabled people also restrict the capacity of such persons to engage in civil society activities.’ (ibid., para. 59).

Asks (2):

  • That the DCEDIY set up a register of DPOs (ibid., paras. 44, 61, 94 (t)), along the lines set out by the UN Committee (ibid., paras. 10-14).
  • Genuine DPOs should then receive core institutional funding and regular information and other supports by the State in accessing all types of funding. Also, other supports may be required from the State by DPOs which don’t involve funding, and these should be determined through close consultation and active involvement of DPOs (ibid., paras. 60, 61, 80, 94 (b).

One source of funding suggested by the UN Committee is the national lottery (ibid., para. 64).

  • A policy and legislative framework is required to embed DPOs into decision-making processes, at all levels within the State (cf. ibid., paras. 94 (b, e, f, etc.).
  • Building Consultation with DPOs into Budgeting of all Statutory Bodies should be an earnest objective, but for this to be comprehensive, their capacity-building is a prerequisite.

3.1. Additional Funding for Disability Service Providers

The Dept. Of Health’s Disability Capacity Review (July, 2021), shows the massive extent to which the State currently relies on charities to provide core and essential services to disabled people. Not only is this outsourcing of responsibilities by the State to private NGOs less amenable to accountability, transparency, and scrutiny – in contrast to services directly provided by the State – for example, through integrated Universal Design – but on a very basic level, Human Rights should not be dependent on charity.

Ask (3.1):

At a minimum, any additional State funding of disability services needs to be disability-proofed by DPOs (see Article 4 (3) of the CRPD as clarified by General Comment 7); and Public Sector Equality Duty in the Human Rights Commission Act (2014, S42).

Such disability-proofing must have as a precondition of State funding to disability service providers that they are not directly or indirectly interfering with the representative rights of DPOs, for example, as set out in the CRPD (see General Comment 7, para. 51).

In other words, State funds must never be allowed to be spent on anything that directly or indirectly undermines the capacity of DPOs. This includes, for example, any funding of advocacy by disability service providers (paying the lobbyist), and ensuring that all State funded operations that inform visually impaired people about disability service providers must also inform them about their DPOs, and facilitate their joining of DPOs.

3.2. Specific Services and Accountability (context and ask)

Braille as an Example:

There are three providers of braille transcription services in the country, and public authorities generally pay for these services when they receive requests from citizens looking for materials in braille.

Such service-provision must meet the requirements of the end-user, and not be dictated by the service-provider. For example, a coalition of braille transcription service providers, in 2013, decided that they would suddenly change from producing all documents in Standard English Braille to producing all documents in Unified English Braille. There is only two clicks of a mouse in the production software interface between the two. This wholesale and steadfast change seriously discommodes most visually impaired people who have learnt braille before 2014, and is discriminatory.

Where contracts exist with these contractors, they must be regularly reviewed with close consultation and active involvement of the relevant DPO(s), and in particular with VVI (cf. VVI’s Policy on Accessible Communications, Section 5).

4. Cost of Visual Impairment

4.1. Costs vs. Basic Income

In December, 2021, the long-awaited INDECON report into the cost of disability (commissioned by the State), was finally published. The cost of disability to those who have a severe vision impairment (i.e., who are blind), is said to be between €9,805 – 10,565 per annum.

Even forgetting for a moment the inflation which has hit the country since the publication of the INDECON Report, we believe these costings to be a massive underestimation for two reasons:

i). The INDECON Report did not factor in that blind people are fifteen times more likely to be without paid employment than their sighted comparitor. Being unemployed due to institutionalised discrimination not only has a clear negative impact on income, but has concomitant knock-on effects which were not covered in the report. In other words, being “unemployed” is a cost in itself.

ii). the methodology of the research inadvertently, but necessarily, excludes visually impaired people with the least resources and supports – i.e., those with the highest disability costs. For example, the quantitative side of the research was based on online surveys, which necessarily exclude visually impaired people on the other side of the digital divide (which is common, for example, when people lose their sight), as well as those who do not have adequate internet access.

As mentioned above, according to the 2016 Census, at least 76% of those with a severe visual impairment in the relevant age-brackets are not in paid employment. Whereas Welfare payments are generally kept low as an incentive for the recipients to seek paid employment, the institutionalised and practical barriers to paid employment are clearly too high for visually impaired people for this approach to be justifiable. As equal Irish citizens, we deserve dignity of life and equal opportunity.

Inflation

In October, 2221, when Budget ’22 was announced, inflation was at 5.6%. The 2.46% increases to Disability Allowance and Blind Pension did not even match this, and worse again, this increase did not take effect until nearly three months later, so that the increase effectively amounted to a mere 1.845%, an effective impoverishment of recipients.

As of August, 2022, the annual inflation rate stands at 9.1%. A Social Justice Ireland report (July, 2022), estimates that this rate is higher among poorer households, standing at 10.8%, since they spend a higher proportion of their incomes on energy and food. As per the INDECON Report (2021) and Census ‘16, visually impaired people come under the latter category.

Asks (4.1): to mitigate against the current institutionalised disabling of people from our right to employment, and our consequent impoverishment; at the very least, core disability-related benefits need to be increased to meet the increased cost of living of their recipients. This also includes a reparation of their impoverishment in Budget 2022, as well as future-proofing against the expected continued inflation for 2023. In effect, this amounts to a minimum of 20% increase in Blind Pension and Disability Allowance. At a bare minimum, disability benefits should be brought to match the non-contributory State pension.

4.2. Basic Income Based On Average Industrial Wage

Given the extraordinary relative impoverishment of disabled people set out in the INDECON Report, and the institutionalised high levels of unemployment among visually impaired people, in particular, shown in Census 2016, there is a clear need for a basic income for visually impaired people, at least, based on the average industrial wage (a system which has pertained for a very long time in Norway). This does not negate the right of visually impaired people to be employed in meaningful work that suits their interests and skills, but rather, it facilitates their pursuit of productive interests and capacity-building for such employment opportunities.

Furthermore, the process of means-testing for visually impaired people is very often inaccessible, meaning that we must rely on the charity of acquaintances to procure and send evidence of capital, income, and expenditure – which are often not obtainable in accessible formats.

Asks (4.2):

  • For budgets to come, we ask that basic income be considered for all visually impaired people, at least for as long as the unemployment rates are so high (i.e., for as long as there is clear institutionalised biases and practical issues with blind and partially sighted people being employed. Effectively, this means that all visually impaired people should have a minimum basic income at one with the average industrial wage.
  • In terms of a basic income for visually impaired people based on the average industrial wage, the simplest way of achieving this is through increases to the Blind Welfare Allowance (see 4.2 and 4.6 below).
  • As a minimum interim measure, disability-related payments by the State to visually impaired people should not be means-tested.

4.3. Non-Contributory Pension

Because of the inaccessibility of means-testing for most visually impaired people, the State’s forcing us to jump from Blind Pension or Disability Allowance to the Non-Contributory Pension as we reach 66 years of age poses a significant challenge, and one that relies on the help of third parties – which in turn compromises our security, as well as GDPR rights in conjunction with reasonable accommodation rights.

Also, forcing someone to do this based on a particular age cut-off point is surely discriminatory on the grounds of age, and completely unnecessary.

The rate of the non-contributory State pension, at €242 per week – although higher than that of the Disability Allowance or Blind Pension, etc., is still far short of that necessary for a minimum standard of living (MESL) as shown by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice (VPSJ) on an annual basis, and as with disability-related benefits, should be raised to meet such basic living requirements.

Ask (4.3):

  • That visually impaired people be allowed to continue collecting Blind Pension, Disability Allowance, or other disability-related core payments, for as long as they need, without having to shut that door and go through the threshold of the non-contributory pension process.
  • that the non-contributory pension rate be raised to meet minimum living standard requirements and to counter inflation.

4.4. Anomalies Between Different Payments to Disabled People

Capital Disregards

Currently, the basic capital disregard for anyone applying for or in receipt of the Disability Allowance is €50,000, counting to €70,000; but equivalent disregard for people in receipt of the Blind Pension or Non-Contributory Pension is €20,000 counting to €40,000.

Such an anomaly is unjustifiable, and appears to have arisen from oversight. Furthermore, it is at least indirect discrimination on the grounds of disability, given the practical difficulties confronting anyone in receipt of the Blind Pension if they wish to opt to collect Disability Allowance instead.

None of these capital disregards have taken account of inflation since they were introduced, an anomaly easiest fixed by removing the requirement for means-testing for such benefits.

Another disablist anomaly can be illustrated in the scenario where a parent has exercised responsible duty by ensuring that a visually impaired child receives an equal share of the estate in their will. Indeed, the parent might want to leave a greater proportion to the disabled child, according to cushion or alleviate their long-term needs (such as extra costs of living and less overall independence). As things stand, perhaps in most cases, such a bequest would mean that the visually impaired child would have to give up their State benefits until they have run through the capital left to them by their dutiful parent. This might be contrasted with a non-disabled sibling who is likely to be in employment, and can invest the capital and get the full benefit of it.

Other Anomalies Regarding Rates and Circumstances

  • There are no disregards for partners or spouses on Blind Persons Pension, but some disregards for these in relation to Disability Allowance
  • While on Disability Allowance, full Medical Card entitlements are allowable up to an income of €427 per week, but with the Blind Persons Pension, no extra earnings income is permitted for a recipient to retain their Medical Card benefits.

Ages of Eligibility of Benefits

The number of recipients of the Blind Pension has decreased by 23.5% between 2015 and 2022, from 1,341 to 1,026 (Oireachtas.ie, PQ 84, 22.5.17). This can be explained by the relative advantages of the Disability Allowance, not just in terms of the capital disregard already mentioned, but also because the Disability Allowance is receivable from the age of 16, whereas the Blind Pension is eligible from the age of 18.

This anomaly, whether or not a result of oversight, can only lead to the dwindling to zero of the number of recipients of the Blind Pension. The ESRI report (2018) based on the Quarterly Household Report returns of 2017, found that visually impaired people are ten times more likely to be on the receiving end of discrimination than any other disability (apart from psycho-social impairments, which are still behind visual impairment in this regard). As such, the retention of a specific core payment to cater for the needs of visually impaired people is advisable.

Asks (4.4):

  • that all capital and income disregards for visually impaired people in receipt of State benefits be changed to being uncapped or unlimited. This would cost the State nothing, but would alleviate life-long impoverishment of many visually impaired people. At the bare minimum, all such capital disregards should be equalised and substantially raised.
  • that all other anomalies that put visually impaired people in receipt of benefits other than the Disability Allowance be ironed out so that they are no longer discriminated against in this regard.

All of these anomalies are unjustifiable, and appear to have accrued by neglect rather than design. In particular, the Blind Pension should be put on a par with the Disability Allowance in all respects as soon as possible. Since there are only slightly more than a thousand people in receipt of the Blind Persons Pension, fixing these discrepancies should not be onerous.

  • that visually impaired people be eligible for the Blind Pension from the age of 16 (as with the Disability Allowance).

4.5. State Benefits as Taxable Income

The Blind Pension and Disability Allowance, respectively, are classed as taxable forms of income, which effectively means that in many instances, increases in rates of such payments, as well as supplementary benefits such as Living Alone Allowance, and Household Benefits Package, are cancelled out by rent increases by Approved Housing Bodies and Local Authorities, which are calculated based on taxable income.

Ask (4.5):

No disability-related payment should be a taxable income for visually impaired people.

4.6. Blind Welfare Allowance (BWA)

BWA is provided by the HSE to blind people living independently who are “unemployed”, at a current rate of €63 per week for a visually impaired individual, and €120 per week for a blind couple.

Currently, it appears that the Blind Welfare Allowance is seen as taxable income, at least by Local Authorities and Approved Housing Bodies, when calculating rent. Given the massive cost of living evidenced in the INDECON Report, and the tremendous impoverishment of visually impaired people as a consequence, it should be seen as unconscionable that what little cushion there is to ameliorate such costs be clawed back by other arms of the State or its agents.

The BWA is currently means-tested, but, since such a stipend should be based on the extra cost incurred as a result of visual impairment, it should apply to those of all incomes who are eligible in terms of being determined to be “blind”, or severely visually impaired; with a secondary non-means-testable rate for those who are partially sighted (e.g., as defined by the NHS).

Currently, an eligibility component of the BWA is “a letter from the National Council for the blind of Ireland (NCBI)…NCBI is the national sight-loss organisation. They can confirm whether you meet the criteria to register as blind” (hse.ie).

However, as we understand it from the NCBI itself, the NCBI is in no position to confirm whether someone meets the criteria of being blind – this being an ophthalmological determination, and because there is no longer a “register” for blindness at the NCBI or anywhere else, for that matter.

Also, the designation of the NCBI as “Ireland’s national sight-loss organisation” is self-declared, and in violation of the CRPD, and does not belong on State-produced material, such as the HSE website (hse.ie).

The BWA rate is €63 for a single person. This amounts to €3.276 per annum, not remotely covering the cost of disability incurred by visually impaired people receiving it, according to the INDECON Report measurements mentioned earlier.

Asks (4.6):

  • that Blind Welfare Allowance no longer be classed as taxable income, and not to be included as income in any means-testing. It is there to help counter the cost of disability, not as a luxury.
  • In the absence of any other compensatory mechanisms commensurate with the cost of visual impairment, the Blind Welfare Allowance must be increased four-fold in order to meet the costs of visual impairment and to help counter the inflationary situation the country finds itself in.
  • In the absence of other necessary supports, such as a basic income based on the average industrial wage, the Blind Welfare Allowance should be available to all visually impaired people, and not be means tested.
  • Any reference to the NCBI regarding Blind Welfare Allowance should be removed from the State’s information on eligibility criteria.

4.7. Accessible Application Processes for State Benefits and Awards

As Visually impaired people, we have the right to independently access our entitlement to supports and services, including those relating to social protection (cf. CRPD, Article 9 (1). However, as mentioned earlier, application processes involve paperwork which is often not independently accessible to visually impaired people.

This means that not only do visually impaired people find it incredibly difficult to apply for their Welfare entitlements (as already mentioned), but they are also far less likely to avail of more specialist or one-off supports for the same reasons. Examples of such specialist or one-off application processes include:

  • Medical Card application and review/renewal
  • Reasonable Accommodation Fund
  • Back to Work Enterprise Allowance
  • Short-term Enterprise Allowance
  • VJT 61A (Revenue Commission’s form for tax-back on assistive or accessibility-related products regarding visual impairment).
  • Technical Aids Grant
  • Disabled Persons Grant Scheme
  • Housing Adaptations Grant
  • Mobility Aids Grant
  • SUSI (third level education grants)

Ask (4.7):

In close consultation and active involvement of VVI, all relevant public bodies to create a system based on Universal Design, which builds reasonable accommodations, as a default, into their regulations and standard operating procedures.

  • Also, many visually impaired people – especially where there has been recent sight-loss – will not be able to access information on what they are entitled to. Statutory bodies need to have incorporated into their budget a social work service that will let visually impaired people and other disabled people know what benefits they are entitled to, and to assist them in such applications with regard to that public body. This may be more efficient as a one-stop shop within the Department of Social Protection (DSP).
  • Public bodies should study our Accessible Communications Policy carefully, and embed the contents of this document in its structure and operating procedures:
    https://vvi.ie/our-policies/accessible-communications-policy/

5. Mobility & Environment

5.1. Free Public Transport

The more that public transport fares are reduced to encourage the general public to use public transport, the less justifiable become the costs of ticketing and revenue protection on such services.

As things stand, ticketing is generally inaccessible to visually impaired people, and visually impaired people cannot independently identify revenue protection officers in a secure manner. Furthermore, some of our members have not been able to obtain the Public Services Card because they have found the application system to be inaccessible.

Ask (5.1):

We recommend that public transport be free at the point of use for all passengers. This not only makes the entire public transport system much more accessible to visually impaired people, but makes it more accessible for everyone. The savings in ticketing, revenue protection, and time costs, should ensure that the overall cost to the commonwealth is decreased, and by the same measures, that the greater public good is being served through encouraging more environmentally sustainable modes of travel. This remedy will require much higher investment in public transport infrastructure to meet the extra demand.

5.2. Active Modes of Transport

Very often, it is not safe for visually impaired people to cycle, and for obvious reasons, driving a car is not legally or morally possible. As such, we depend on “lifts” from friends and relations (especially if living in the country); on walking, where possible; and on public transport. Walking requires safe and accessible street-scapes; is limited in terms of distance; and can make it more difficult to find one’s destination (e.g., a first-time specialist’s appointment and No. 83 Main Street, etc.).

As such, cycling and walking (active modes) are not remotely adequate in journey completion for visually impaired people as compared to the general population.

Like you, we have a Human Right to access our community and environment on an equal basis with everyone else. This means that we must be able to access all areas, whether by blue badge private vehicles, taxi, or bus, etc. Anything else (e.g., pedestrianisation) necessarily constitutes a disablist planning zone.

Ask (5.2):

As is our right as a DPO under Articles 4 (3) and 9 (1) of the CRPD, we request that all funding on active Travel modes be contingent on accessibility audits that conform to Article 4 (3) of the CRPD – namely “close consultation and active involvement of…representative organisations” (i.e., DPOs).

A useful starting point is our Manual of Accessible Planning for Pedestrians (MAPP):

https://www.vvi.ie/mapp

This precondition will have long term cost benefits, since it will facilitate the independence (economic and otherwise) of our ageing population, as well as fulfilling the State’s obligations to our DPO members.

5.3. Consultation on Sustainable Development Goals

The UN Committee points out that part of the States obligations to “closely consult and actively involve” DPOs (as per Article 4 (3) of the CRPD), relates to, for example, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (2030) (General Comment 7, paras. 9, 92, 94 (r)). So far, in Ireland, this obligation has been neglected or otherwise ignored, across this entire area, including the Climate Action Plan.

Ask (5.3):

In line with the State’s obligations under Article 4 (3) of the CRPD, and with the Public Sector Duty (IHREC Act, 2013, S42), disability-proofing, through close consultation and active involvement of DPOs, needs to be a precondition of any funding related to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

5.4. Visually Impaired Passengers.

The EU Parking Permit scheme for disabled drivers and passengers means that blind passengers (along with severely physically impaired passengers/drivers) have disabled parking rights.

However, particularly in rural areas, where visually impaired people do not have adequate access to public transport, we are often totally reliant on being driven to doctors’ appointments, to community events, to work, etc. Unlike our sighted comparitors, we do not have the option of cycling. Similarly, in a household, where both parents would be able to co-ordinate school-runs etc., where one parent is visually impaired, the availability for work of the other partner is often compromised by having to make such school-runs or drop children off to bus-stops etc.

Ask (5.4):

Visually impaired people have a comparatively restricted ability to engage in “active modes” of transport, and as such, it is an anomaly (and discrimination on the basis of disability) that they are not also eligible for the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme, which provides a range of tax reliefs linked to the purchase and use of specially constructed or adapted vehicles by drivers and passengers with a disability. Visually impaired people may not need adapted vehicles, but the necessity of their being driven should be reflected in the same tax reliefs and toll exemptions, i.e., as set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 (SI 353/1994) as amended.

5.5. Accessibility as a Precondition for Public Transport Licensing

There has been a trend, in recent years, towards the further opening up of public transportation to private operators. It is essential that such licencing by the National Transport Authority (NTA) is dependent on accessibility to disabled people in general, and from our perspective, to visually impaired people.

Ask (5.5):

That all future license-granting by the NTA to private operators be dependent on disability proofing in line with Article 4 (3) of the CRPD.

5.6. Removal of VAT on dog-food for guide-dogs.

A guide dog is an aid to visually impaired people, both for independent living and mobility. As such, the costs of maintaining them should be vat exempted, as is the case for adaptive technology, which also can be seen as an aid to independent/living/mobility.

Currently, users of guide-dogs must pay 23% VAT on everything necessary for the maintenance of the guide-dog (such as dog-food which is of prime quality for working dogs).

Ask (5.6):

VAT should be removed from all purchases necessary for the maintenance of guide dogs (both working and retired).

6. Housing and Independent Living

6.1. Needs of Visually Impaired People in being Allocated Housing

Currently, there is no agreed standard as to what constitutes Universal Design in State-supported housing – notwithstanding an out-of-date paper by CEUD, in 2013). The prevailing ethos (e.g., DHLG, Disability Housing Strategy, 2022), concentrates on accessibility for wheelchair users (which, of course, in itself is essential). However, Universal Design must also take account of the needs of visually impaired tenants, and to that end, Article 4 (3) of the CRPD is once more a statutory obligation. In other words, it is an obligation under international law that the State prioritise DPOs, in general, regarding the compilation of a Universal Design standard, but that in particular, with regard to visual impairment, VVI is prioritised on all levels.

Also, the designation of Approved Housing Body status to any disability service provider in this respect, against the wishes of DPOs, is necessarily repugnant to the CRPD.

Ask (6.1):

  • That the Housing Agency “closely consult with and actively involve” VVI in a statutory minimum standard on “Universal Design” as applied to public and private housing, with regard to new builds, and state-subsidised retrofitting.
  • That no AHB status approval be given to any disability service provider without this first being agreed with the relevant DPOs. In this case, since VVI is the national DPO concerning visual impairment, specifically, VVI must be closely consulted and actively involved, as well as our views and opinions prioritised, in such consideration.

6.2. General DPO Prioritisation in Consultations

Currently, there is no provision for prioritisation of the “views and opinions” of DPOs (General Comment 7, para. 23), nor distinction of DPOs (ibid., paras. 13-17) in the Disability Housing Strategy (2022-7).

As with section 2, above, it is an obligation on the State to make sure that DPOs are afforded those rights, including in what is often referred to as ‘stakeholders’ in the area of housing, and this must be remedied in order for Ireland to be compliant with its obligations under the CRPD (Article 4 (3) and 19). This will also involve an obligation for Local Authorities to capacity-build DPOs.

Ask (6.2):

That the DHLG, Housing Agency, and Local Authorities have distinct and prioritised consultations with DPOs regarding housing and disability.

Currently, the DHLG have shoe-horned Deaf, Deaf-blind, hearing impaired, neurodiverse, and visually impaired people into the one category, i.e., “sensory impairment”, and even worse, the medical model language of “people with a sensory disability”.

Impairments in sight and hearing have totally different consequences. The impacts, apart from the general disabling by society, are chalk and cheese. Lumping these categories in together might be handy from a disinterested statistician’s perspective, but not where one is interested in the actual differences in housing take-up and subsequent results.

Ask (6.3):

That the DHLG be required to separate its statistical categories according to the various types of sensory impairment (Deaf, hearing impaired, deaf-blind, and visually impaired), as well as a separate category for neurodiverse people. This will allow additional funding, where necessary, to be targeted, not only in usual housing services, but also in terms of homelessness services.

6.4. Minimum of 2-bed Allocations for Visually Impaired Individuals

Many visually impaired individuals in public housing have no choice but to remain in hospital when recovering, thus, inadvertently “bedblocking”, since they live alone in 1-bedroom dwellings, and as such, cannot have full-time care from extended family, community, or professionals in their own home. Generally speaking, also, visually impaired people living alone may require more room to house assistive technology, guide-dogs, and more room to avoid trip-hazards, such as placement of clothes-dryers etc.

Ask (6.4):

  • That Housing allocation for visually impaired individuals allows them a minimum of 2-bedroom dwellings.

6.5. Homelessness

Homelessness is a terrible situation at the best of times, but 26% of people suffering from homelessness are also disabled (ESRI-IHREC, Discrimination and Inequality in Housing in Ireland, 2018). This over-representation, as with other inequalities, is not coincidental.

Asks (6.5):

  • that visually impaired and other disabled people be fast-tracked out of homelessness as a priority.
  • that in close consultation with VVI, that homelessness authorities identify those homeless accommodation facilities which are most accessible to visually impaired people, and that placements be made, as priority, accordingly.

6.6. Home Supports

Many people with a visual impairment require additional assistance with tasks that others might think as straightforward, such as cleaning of rooms, assistance in travelling, and even simple DIY tasks such as safely changing a lightbulb, the railing or re-railing of curtains, replacing a fuse in a plug, etc.

VVI has published a position paper on traditional home support services (December, 2021):

However, there are two areas which need more investment from the State in this regard: namely, personal assistance for visually impaired people; and the provision of tradesperson-related assistance.

In terms of personal assistance, visually impaired people may require assistance, such as in browsing in their local library, including more specialist possibilities such as the need for a personal assistant to be proficient in a second language, such as Irish. Such additional support requires more investment in personal assistance provided by the State. In terms of assistance to visually impaired people, in particular, remote personal assistance, such as that provided by AIRA, should be seen as an intrinsic option supported by the State, where preferred by the visually impaired person.

In terms of tradespeople, some tasks are more specialist. For example, the pressure on the water may be low, but a visually impaired person cannot access the interface on the boiler to raise it; or on some makes of washing-machine, the filter is at the back, and cannot easily be removed when required to be cleaned –causing a breakdown in the washing-machine.

Asks (6.6):

  • That more investment be made in PA hours for visually impaired people, including, where sought, remote PA services, such as those provided by AIRA.
  • that a system of State-subsidised trades in the home be organised with a view to providing solutions to emergency and daily needs of visually impaired and other disabled people.

6.7. Caution Regarding Individualised/Personalised Budgeting Strategy

In its prebudget submission (July, 2022, p.9), the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Disability Matters writes:

“The Committee believe that funding strategy needs to move to individualised funding and a needs-led system where an assessment of people’s needs would be undertaken to allow for direct resource allocation to meet the needs of each person. Those could be personal care needs, social inclusion needs, etc. The Government must implement the personal budgets pilot to enable a model of delivering disability supports as a personalised budget which has autonomy, independence, and community inclusion for people with disabilities at its core”.

Oireachtas Joint Committee on Disability Matters (July 2022)

We have concerns about this approach, from a visually impaired perspective. Apart from the bureaucratic costs in determining individual budgets, which can be arbitrary and be a fiasco, as with the PIPS in Britain, visually impaired people are often denied access to the so-called free market by virtue of the fact that advertising and availability of services is not communicated in a form accessible to us. Also, clearly, different parts of the country will have varying qualities and amounts of service-provision if things are left to the ‘free market’, and indeed, if a Regulator, down the line, is necessitated, things get even more bureaucratic in terms of wasted resources.

Ask (6.7):

That nothing be done regarding a change of funding strategy to personalised budgets without prior close consultation and active involvement of DPOs (including VVI).

7. Health

7.1. Accessible Health Services

Throughout Ireland’s health service, there persists basic and universal inaccessibilities and disablist practice. For example, we often hear of hospitals complaining about ‘no-shows’ of outpatients for medical appointments; but it is our experience that accessible communications from hospitals to visually impaired patients (e.g., as per the Disability Act, S28), are the exception rather than the rule, and have to be fought for by the outpatient, on each and every occasion.

Similarly, medical staff rarely appear to have received adequate training in how to safely guide a visually impaired person or to understand other access needs.

In terms of systems, The systems set up for vaccination and antigen-testing for covid are intrinsically inaccessible to visually impaired people – with VVI’s offers to advise on our needs from the outset being effectively ignored by the HSE and Dept. of Health.

Ask (7.1):

  • Adequate funding must be identified for the adequate training and setting up of accessible communications systems by medical staff and institutions, as well as public authorities, themselves.
  • in all funding and contracts, a stipulation must be accessible services and communications: cf. VVI’s Accessible Communications Policy

7.2. The Medical Card

Context and ask: Given the extra costs of being visually impaired, often involving greater need to use health services, all visually impaired people should be eligible, by default and without means-testing, for a general services medical card.

Because restoration of lost vision is an infinitesimally rare occurrence, and because renewal processes are intrinsically inaccessible to many visually impaired people, visually impaired people should have indefinite entitlement to the medical card.

7.3. Medical Prescription

Medical prescription charges of €1.50 are charged to medical card holders getting items on prescription from pharmacies. Such a tax is regressive, since it cuts at the poorest in society; and it is also cruel, since it penalises medical card holders for their reliance on essential medicines or medical products. This latter point also means that by its nature, the charge is disablist.

Prescriptions regarding medicines for long-term conditions are currently required to be renewed by the service-user every three to six months, creating much unnecessary bureaucracy, as well as unnecessary hassle for the person with the long-term condition.

Ask (7.2):

  • That all medical prescription charges be dropped for medical card holders (which would, effectively, be a return to the situation as it was in 2009 and before).
  • that prescription-renewal obligations for medicines pertaining to long-term conditions be got rid of. When the patient dies (and the prescription comes to an end), the pharmacy concerned can be required to refund the State the amount it has received from the State in lieu of the medicines acquired, but unused, for that particular prescription.

7.4. Public Eye-Care Services

A VVI member has a congenital eye syndrome (microphthalmia), but was also diagnosed with cataracts in 2016. The pre-existing syndrome means that a cataracts operationis not a straightforward procedure, and requires very experienced and specialist consultants. However, he remains an outpatient at a regional hospital, and appears to have been forgotten about. In the meantime, the cataracts is embedding itself in his eyes, making it more difficult to successfully remove without bleeding, infection, or detached retina. The prognosis for him saving any sight is not good.

Ask (7.4):

that Ireland’s Third World public system for eye clinics be properly resourced to meet the First World expectations of our ageing population. Such investment will necessarily save money in the long-run as it helps to prevent life-changing experiences of total loss of sight, and the distresses and need for support services which accompany that loss.

8. Education & Culture

8.1. Habilitation and Rehabilitation

In keeping with the concept of Universal Design (CRPD, Article 2), visually impaired children have a right to receive a full education that meets their practical needs (as well as academic needs), as an integrated part of the education system. This means that the State should be providing education of life skills specific to visually impaired children (such as mobility and orientation, as well as other practical skills such as use of assistive technology, braille, and summer courses such as cooking, for visually impaired children. Similarly, but separately, the same services should be provided, as a right, to adults who have lost their sight later in life.

Ask (8.1):

  • That for any visually impaired person in the education system, that visiting teachers (from the NCSE) be adequately trained in the provision of education involving life skills specific to visually impaired children and young adults; and that in terms of rehabilitation, that the State closely consult and actively involve VVI in the establishment of a State-run rehabilitation service, under the auspices of the DCEDIY.
  • since the most cost-efficient and accountable provision of such services are where they are functions of the State, where NGOs are currently providing such services to some extent, such provision should be seen as a transitional support while the State establishes its own standards in close consultation and active involvement of DPOs, and in particular, in this instance, with VVI.

8.2. Accessible Educational Texts

We know anecdotally from third level institutions disability support units and from what data there is from AHEAD, that attendance at third level institutions by visually impaired students – and in particular, blind students – is the lowest of all disability constituencies (although, since there is nothing on deaf-blind participation, we would presume this to be very low indeed, if there is any participation at all).

From our own experiences in the education system (in all levels, up to FITAC Level 10), accessibility to even core texts is difficult, or non-existent. Often, where access to even core texts is provided, it does not happen in a timely manner, further disadvantaging the visually impaired student. Given this discrimination, which is intrinsic to Ireland’s education system, it is no wonder that there is such a relatively poor success rate among visually impaired students.

Asks (8.2):

Note also that Duxbury (the software currently used by all Irish service-providers in braille-production, works from Microsoft Word, and so, production of braille texts from materials is really only practical when an accessible Microsoft Word version is the transcription-to-braille source.

  • the “Copyright Library” status of Trinity College Dublin should be extended to the National Library of Ireland, and as such; all books published in Ireland be required to lodge an accessible Microsoft Word version, and a .pdf version, of the book with the NLI, so that visually impaired readers can access such materials on demand from their local library.

8.3. Third Level Education Supports

In the United Kingdom, visually impaired third level students are guaranteed a minimum of 20 hours personal assistance supports, which is totally separate to their data processing (text) supports. This personal assistance not only means that lectures are more accessible to us, but also that we can go for lunch and participate more fully in college life.

In Ireland, standards of accessible text provision as well as of personal assistance hours vary from institution to institution, but personal assistance tends to be only provided for taught courses, which excludes many post-graduate courses.

Visually Impaired students in Third Level may require very specialist personal assistance, such as knowledge of a particular language other than English, or knowledge of STEM abbreviations and charts, etc. The current rates of PA-pay for Third Level education supports is quite close to the minimum wage, and so, is not generally compatible with particular specialist needs.

In Section 4, we have already mentioned the evidence of systemic impoverishment of visually impaired people in general, and visually impaired students are no different in this regard.

Apart from the extra costs by Third Level students, generally, such as living away from home, etc., visually impaired people incur additional costs related to Third Level education, such as extra need for taxi services, more dependence on eating-out facilities, etc. Furthermore, since courses are more likely than not to be inaccessible, the drop-out rate of visually impaired people can be expected, reasonably, to be much higher than the norm.

In short, the current SUSI criteria for funding looks at previous Third Level experience as a negative marker where courses have been dropped. In the case of visually impaired people, this is disablist, because it is blaming the victim.

Asks (8.3):

  • that Third Level supports be standardised, including the provision of a minimum of 20 PA hours per student (including for all postgraduates).
  • that educational support workers (i.e., personal assistants) be directly employed by third level institutions, which will afford a much higher level of pay for their work, and attracting Pas with higher skill-levels.
  • that visually impaired students not be penalised by previous third level attendance in the awarding of SUSI grants.

8.4. Talking Books should be VAT-free

Ask and Reason: 21% VAT needs to be removed from talking books (to match print book counterparts). This helps to address the difficulties in educational and cultural access experienced by blind people, especially having lost their sight later in life, and recognises the barrier to purchasing talking books caused by the systematic impoverishment of visually impaired people.

8.5. TV license exemption to all visually impaired people – whether in receipt of State benefits or not.

De facto this is the case anyway, since An Post has been thwarted in the Courts for trying to chase down blind people who had not officially been exempted. But visually impaired people should not have to worry about such things.

This is a good time to remind the State that the vast majority of television programming in Ireland does not have Audio Description, and so is inadequately accessible to visually impaired viewers/audiences.

Asks (8.5):

  • for all visually impaired people to be entitled to a free tv license or to be exempt from the requirement to have a license.
  • for State broadcasters in particular to have a minimum audio description output of 30% in 2023.
  • for such broadcasters to have accessible interfaces on apps and websites.

9. Assistive Technology Scheme

VVI calls for Seed Funding for an Assistive Technology Scheme which would act like a lending library, where visually impaired people could test out devices to see if they would be suitable as long-term purchases.

as a basic step to using technology to empower visually impaired people in society, this national  scheme would also be engaged in research, such as into the practical application of accessible digital signage, in close consultation and active involvement of VVI and other national DPOs.

Whereas, before, such technology may have seemed too expensive and not universal enough for widespread application, this landscape is rapidly changing, and Ireland should be at the forefront of utilising such technology to improve the lives of visually impaired people.

Possibilities not only include a national assistive technology library where visually impaired people can test out devices, but also to be considered should be individual accessible technology grants from lottery funds.