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Visually Impaired pupils left behind in covid measures, says Féach report

Introduction from VVI

Féach is Ireland’s support group for parents of visually impaired children, and can be found at http://www.feach.ie

In May, 2020, Féach conducted research into how blind or partially sighted children were coping and being supported in the emergency educational measures, and the picture was disquieting. Below is Féach’s description of the results, and conclusion aimed at school returns this autumn, as submitted in April 2021 to the State’s consultation on its draft report into its compliance with the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Many thanks and regards

Robbie
1 of VVI


Féach logo

The Implications of Covid-19 on the Education of Pupils who are Blind and Visually Impaired

Blind & Visually Impaired Students’ Experience of Remote Learning During Covid 19 Pandemic School Closure

ABOUT FÉACH

Féach is a voluntary organisation set up in the 1980’s to support parents and families of blind and visually impaired children. We are primarily a support group, however as a result of the shortcomings in the services available to our children; we have been involved in lobbying varying Government agencies on their behalf.

We successfully campaigned for free travel and companion passes for Blind and Visually Impaired children. We were instrumental in the setting up of the National Braille and Large Print Production Centre (now Reading Services), which is located in the grounds of ChildVision, Drumcondra, Dublin 9.

INTRODUCTION

In March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak of COVID19, as a pandemic, due to its rapid spread around the world. Ireland, took action and put in place plans to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. One such action, announced on March 12th was to close all schools in Ireland. On May 1st, the Government announced a ‘roadmap’ to opening Ireland up again, which indicates that schools will not reopen until September at the very earliest and even then, only 1-2 days a week/at a reduced attendance/capacity (1).

Throughout this time the Department of Education and Skills (DES) has been silent on the learning support needs of children who are Blind/Visually Impaired until June 12th 2020. There has been no guidance from the DES on the provision of resource teaching remotely. Our children have lost months of the weekly 1:1 teaching they normally receive during resource hours. The additional skills they need such as Braille and Assistive Technology have not been addressed. The NCSE who oversee the Visiting Teacher service for Young People who are Blind/Visually Impaired have issued no guidelines for the role of Visiting Teachers under remote learning conditions.

As happy as we are with the inclusion of Blind and severely Visually Impaired children in primary school in the new Summer Provision, we cannot comprehend why blind/vi in post primary have been excluded. We also cannot forget the delay in this help being offered to our children. It is hugely important that these students get the correct help this summer and on their return to school in September

In response to a high number of concerns from parents, Féach conducted a survey from May 18th to May 22nd on the experience of Blind/Visually Impaired Students’ of remote learning. The response was huge and swift; a reflection of the stress parents were under as they struggled to make the material being sent home accessible to their children. In total, 78% of our members responded to the survey. The responses set out the educational supports children have received since school closure;, the barriers they have faced and the support needed to/ required to ease children back into school after such a long absence.

Government published roadmap to ease Covid 19 restrictions and reopen Ireland’s economy and society, accessed at www.merrionstreet.ie

THE EXPERIENCE TO DATE

Lack of VI specific/differentiated work
On March 12th, teachers, pupils and parents were thrown into a unique situation with the almost immediate closing of schools. Parents were advised to support their children’s learning at home. Teachers were told to send work home with their students (in some cases we know of, this did not happen) and to immediately prepare for a situation they had never encountered before.

While homeschooling has been challenging for most parents, it presents unique challenges when the child is blind/visually impaired. Our children require significant adaptations to make learning materials accessible. So not only have our parents had to contend with accessing and downloading a range of resources, they have had to struggle with making these accessible for someone with limited or no vision. In addition, the extra skills so important for independence, have largely been ignored these past months. Braille, screen readers, orientation and mobility (cane training), listening skills and other Individual Support Plan goals have been omitted from consideration during remote learning.

Our survey revealed that remote learning is not working well for most/a large number of students who are blind/visually impaired. Most parents do not have the specialised knowledge of Braille or assistive technology to help their children. (Many teachers seem not to have considered the unique access needs of their blind/visually impaired student when setting work for home.

LACK OF INDIVIDUALISED CONTACT FROM CLASS TEACHER

Contact from Class teachers graph
Contact from class teacher
Made individual contact 42%
Made no individual contact 58%

Only 42% of parents had received any contact from the class teacher to discuss the specific needs of their blind/visually impaired child.

When contact was initiated by the parent, the response was ‘don’t worry, they’ll catch up next year…they can omit that part of the homework’, rather than any attempt to make the material accessible. This is a worrying response of ‘lowering the bar’ for the student with a disability instead of striving to support equal access to the curriculum content.

How was contact made graph
How was contact made
Text/WhatsApp 25 (22.3%)
Phone 59 (52.7%)
Email 77 (68.8%)
Post 5 (4.5%)
In Person 11 (9.8%)

When contact has been made by the class teacher, the majority of contact (69%) has been made by email. With no personal interaction with the parent or student phone calls or video calls would have been preferable. This type of contact lacks clarity and clear guidance, often with no modification of the materials needed or consideration of the additional learning targets/individual goals of the student’s support plan.

35% of parents felt that the contact they had received from their class teacher was insufficient.

Visiting teacher contact graph
Visiting teacher contact
Some contact 42%
No contact 58%

LACK OF CONTACT FROM VISITING TEACHER

Guidance from the NCSE is very poor with 58% of parents reporting no contact from their child’s Visiting Teacher.

The Visiting Teacher service should be the liaison between school and child, advising the school on exactly how to support a student is part of their remit. As 58% did not contact their students to know how they were doing, this support was not given. Parents were left to muddle through alone. Clearly many schools struggled with this new system which is understandable, however the liaison between the Visiting Teacher and the schools was also very poor. The Visiting Teacher gave very little guidance to schools on how best to support Visually Impaired students at home.

For a significant amount of families, home education is not working for a variety of reasons. The Department of Education and Skills (DES) must carefully examine how it is supporting families of children with disabilities at this time. While many students and their families have been under stress, we feel the additional needs of students with disabilities have been overlooked. Our children need individualised support to access the curriculum and they have additional learning goals if they are to learn to live independently. June 12th, three months into the lockdown, was the first communication from DES which mentioned special needs or blind/visually impaired students.

Nature and frequency of VT graph
Nature and frequency of VT
Excellent 18%
Sufficient 30%
Insufficient 52%

How was VT contact made graph
How was VT contact made
In Person 0.9%
Post 9.2%
Email 48.7%
Phone 59.2%
Text 25%

PARENTS EXPERIENCE WITH VT’S

  • VT has not been in touch with school to guide them on how they should support him and only contacted me by phone 7 weeks in, despite the fact that he is a state exam year student. I feel totally abandoned by the Educational system. The only support agency who offered any support was NCBI – with personal contact, technical support and practical videos. This is not even within their remit. Sorry rant over but to say I feel let down is a total understatement.
  • I have been very disappointed that in over 2 months neither VT for VI and D/HI have made contact
  • Only one email from VT with link to Braille resources. No input at all. I emailed over a week ago to say device not working or charging (this has been ongoing since Feb) nothing done as yet
  • I find it unbelievable that the visiting teacher has not been in contact with us and that I have a child with a vi that is about to head into 2nd year with no technology intervention. He has large print books and these were only made available to him in 6th class. Only started typing lessons in 6th class.Visiting teacher appears to be afraid of technology. What exactly is the job description of the visiting teacher. Surely now during the time of home schooling we should have at least received a phone call from Visiting Teacher
  • I am disappointed we have had no contact at all from Visiting Teacher. I am also disappointed that I found out from my 5 year old that he was using an iPad linked to the whiteboard before school closed. This was set up by VT but I was never informed about it by her or the school. I do not know if my son needs larger print books for next year. I feel our school and teacher are doing their best but the service from the Visiting Teacher has been very lacking to sat the least
  • I emailed the principal regarding lack of face to face online teaching & got no reply.
  • Have emailed the school asking can SNA’s help with subjects, have received no reply
  • I contacted my VT about my daughters computer not working and am still waiting on her to come back…
  • We have had very little input if any from her VT infact she hasn’t been seen by her visiting teacher in almost 3 years only for NBCI we would be totally lost.
  • The general opinion from parents that I have contact with is that Visiting Teacher service is very poor in County XXXXX compared to other areas
  • My child gets very little support from the VT. The visiting teacher has not made any contact with me during this academic year. it is very disappointing
  • My son’s VT retired last year and we have had absolutely no contact or information regarding her replacement since!!

Lack of Resource Teaching Contact

Only 60 % of students heard from their Resource Teacher with nearly 40% having had no contact at all from their child’s resource teacher since the school closure. While ⅔ felt the level of contact was satisfactory, ⅓ of families felt it was insufficient.

Has your resource teacher been in touch graph
Has your resource teacher been in touch?
Yes 60.4%
No 39.6%

Frequency and nature of contact graph
Has would you describe the frequency and nature of this contact?
Excellent 18.3%
Sufficient 29.8%
Insufficient 51.9%

How was resource teacher contact made graph
How was Resource Teacher contact made
In Person 9.2%
Post 13.3%
Email 66.3%
Phone 49%
Text/WhatsApp 19.4%

TECHNOLOGY – The cornerstone of Visually Impaired learning

At present the only method for teachers to contact their students is via technology. Most families have access to some form of technology such as a laptop, smartphone or iPad however some have no access to any technology at all for schoolwork, especially the assistive/adapted technology needed for Visually Impaired users. For some students their devices were not sent home and parents have not been allowed to collect them. For others there has been no support in their use. Many use highly specialised devices such as BrailleNotes with Perkins keyboards. It is impossible for parents to use these without training or support. So they are unable to teach these skills to their child or to help when the device does not work.

Technology is so important for Visually Impaired children. These children need to be supported immediately by the DES with technology training or access to in person s teaching as they have no access to education at present.

PARENTS EXPERIENCE WITH THECHNOLOGY

  • I have to change lessons because emails and links are not suitable so I must work ahead of his lessons as the emails, work, links are not suitable. I’ve had to learn how to change settings on laptop to allow zoom and I read to him when it’s not suitable. If he was expected to do this himself if I was doing a different job it would be a joke.
  • I asked his teacher could I have my child’s laptop, he said he would ask but have not heard a reply and that was weeks ago, his laptop was set up with so many features that would have been helpful, also my child had to learn his way around a different device. I am not great on IT so I have had to spend hours assisting him. Teachers are sending out work but they don’t think about children that would have any visual difficulties.
  • My daughter has had difficulty seeing the work sent home via the Seesaw app because our iPad is 9 years old and we can’t update to the latest version of Seesaw. As some of her worksheets are created using the newer version of Seesaw she can’t complete the work on the iPad. We look at it on the iPhone – but the text on the phone is too small for her to see even when we zoom in. Have told the class teacher the difficulty we are having and the reason for the problem but it has been shrugged off. No solution forthcoming.
  • I am left trying to figure out how my child can use a laptop when he can’t even see the screen without holding it to his face. Things have to change. I don’t understand why some kids seem to have lots of devices to use for school and have been given the opportunity to trial them and see what works and others get nothing. In my opinion this Visiting Teacher is setting my child up for failure instead of enabling him with independence in the educational system.
  • My son is in 3rd class. He used Connect 12 and we had to appeal the school policy to allow for his technology to be allowed home. This was granted but only after 8 weeks without it which was a shame. Since receiving it he has begun learning how to touch type daily.

Inaccessiblity of Materials

Almost half (49.7%) of all Visually Impaired/Blind students surveyed have not received adapted materials from the school or in some cases access to their large print school books at all. Visually Impaired children cannot work with the standard text books on the curriculum Many of the e-textbooks made available by publishers for free during the pandemic are not easy to read for people with visual impairments. Magnification reduces the clarity of image files. Screen magnifiers do not work well with most web pages and most of the e-textbooks are not formatted for screen readers. Some of the apps used for school-home communication, such as Aladdin etc are not compatible with assistive technology.

This has resulted in students trying to learn from home without books. This is simply impossible. For these students that is 3 months of education gone. They will struggle hugely to catch up when they go back if this gap is not bridged in the meantime.

68.3% feel their Visually Impaired child is struggling more than their non Visually Imapired Child

Nearly half stated their child was struggling academically and emotionally

Aspects where the child is falling behind graph
Aspects where the child is falling behind
Not falling behind 28%
With skills (e.g. fine motor, writing, etc) 37.2%
Emotionally 45.7%
Academically 44.5%

PARENTS EXPERIENCES WITH INACCESSIBILITY

  • Has missed 3 months of subjects that he needs support in – Science, Maths, Business, French. He will have missed some very key lessons and will probably have to drop some Honours subjects. I asked for 1 maths resource a week and was told it was not possible as she had to mind her child!
  • I feel no effort is being made to solve what is probably not a difficult problem to solve. I am her mum – not her teacher. But I feel I am being asked to do the job the teacher should be doing (differentiating the work slightly, looking for solutions) when my daughter’s needs aren’t being thought about when worksheets are being created
  • He is supposed to be accessing classes within the mainstream but with additional support for his VI and physical disabilities (physical disabilities, normal intellect). However, his mainstream teacher hasn’t been in touch at all and when I contacted her she said that she is devising his lesson plans jointly with his special class teacher every fortnight. But when I said this to the special class teacher she said that she hadn’t been in touch and didn’t know what the mainstream class were doing. His special class teacher and SNAs do a 30 minute zoom session with him everyday 11-11.30am which gives his morning structure that he so badly needs. But it is so difficult to keep him engaged with school work overall and I do worry that the books that are read over zoom he can’t see them etc.
  • He was sent home with one reader book and one maths workbook at the start of the lockdown and that’s it since. His special class teacher said that she doesn’t use the books anyway with him in class much because the print is wrong for him. His writing is difficult given his CVI and physical disabilities so he was learning to type in school so this is also something I have to do every day with him on top of his writing, zoom class, reading, maths etc. It’s an awful lot.
  • I don’t think my child is falling behind academically but I do think she is missing out on the resource teaching that she would get in school
  • As the day is nearly complete and my daughter is starting to get tired from the days going on and with Congenital Nystagmus and optic nerve Hypoplasia tiredness affects the vision therefore it’s harder for her to complete same

SOLUTIONS AND POSITIVE EXPERIENCES

Supports that may be beneficial to VI children graph
Supports that may be beneficial to VI children while learning at home
Email lesson plans 20.9%
Phone calls 16.5%
Links to online resources 25.3%
Class group interactive video lessons 44.3%
Interactive 1:1 video lessons 55.1%
In person teaching at school or at home 48.1%
  • The Summer Programme that the government has now included Blind and visually impaired children in will need guidance from VT’s to create Lesson Plans for tutors and SNA’s to use during the provision as many children will be getting a home tutor with little experience in VI.
  • Some form of home tuition and direct contact with the teacher are the highest ranked supports parents believe their child requires going forward for the new school year.
  • When teaching can not be done in person, remote lessons must be 1:1 for our children. (This can be provided by resource teacher, class teacher or visiting teacher but they need this support to catch up on materials they can’t see and to learn the vital additional skills they need to learn in Braille and technology.).
  • For a cohort of children with disabilities, direct access to teachers, SNAs and a structured lesson plan derived from the IEP (Student Support Plan Plus) is what is required.
  • While this may not be in line with public health guidelines at present, these children need to be top of the priority list of children returning to school.
  • When children are to return to school the DES must ensure that children with disabilities are not left behind
  • ChildVision and NCBI have been great help to the parents and children during this time, mainstream schools and the DES have not been in our experience
  • Post Primary Students are not included in the Government’s plans for the summer and this needs to addressed

PARENTS EXPERIENCE

  • He needs 1:1 help with different areas of school work, he wouldn’t engage well from video conferencing as a method of teaching if it was an option.
  • My VT has been in touch and has offered to help with issues with his technology and I have found my school very good. He has all his large print books home so we work from them. Luckily he is only in 4th class so I can help him with all of his work.
  • Communication via phone or video call 1:1 possibly would benefit
  • I am very happy with our school. They are in constant contact with XXXX and myself to see how we are getting on. Lessons are sent in weekly along with feedback from Seesaw app and phone calls. Her main teacher, support teacher and SNA and vice principal have been excellent.
  • My school has been more than supportive during Covid 19 with setting work via school email, Microsoft teams and one in particular livestream. I feel they have done their best and more. Couldn’t have asked for more to be honest.

CONCLUSION

Come September we need to see Visually Impaired and Blind children prioritised by the DES their individual needs recognised by schools. The children will need 1:1 teaching either in person or via video calls. If schools will be phasing students back into the classroom, our children need to be considered first so they do not lose any more resource hours or continue to struggle to access their textbooks and worksheets

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Observations on Proposed Pedestrianisation of Merrion Row, Dublin 2

Made by Voice of Vision Impairment (30 Apr 2021)

Introduction

1. Prioritisation of DPOs in Consultations

As a DPO under the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, VVI needs to be prioritised in Dublin City Council’s (DCC) consultations on this proposal, and our concerns answered in detail, publicly as well as directly to us. Also, as a DPO, DCC needs to have sought our advice on this project from the concept stage of the plan. This, of course, did not happen.

By law, safety and rights come before perceived popularity.

Inaccessibility Issues Regarding the Proposal.

2. Inaccessible Information

The images in the proposal are not described, full stop, let alone adequately described for blind readers. This hampers our participation in the consultation process, and violates the EU Web Accessibility Directive (2016), and the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (Article 4.3 as clarified by General Comment 7).

Accessibility/Safety Issues

3. Delineation

The delineation of the new pedestrianised spaces from the single remaining lane of traffic is unclear… i.e., we don’t actually know what it is because of the inaccessibility of the images; and also, it is likely to be inadequate, since a 125mm flat-facing kerb is required to segregate pedestrians from traffic – for safety of long cane users and guide-dog users, respectively.

4. Narrower Safe Footways

If the above point has not been catered for, then it means that blind pedestrians will be limited to a a very narrow safe space, if, indeed, they have any safe space remaining at all.

5. Vehicular Access

Many blind people rely on access by car – be it private transport, or taxi, and the reduction of road-space from three to one lanes means that such access will be more difficult.

For example, a blind person wishing to get a taxi to access the post office or the bank may not be set down close enough to where they need to go, putting them in harm’s way (given the above points 3 and 4).

6. Bus Diversion

The diversion of the 44 from Hume Street to Pembroke Street and Leeson Street will cause confusion and a lot of hard retraining.

7. Segregation of dining areas

The canvas/tarpaulin screens on steel poles are not fit for purpose when it comes to protecting long cane users, since the long cane is liable to snag in the gap between the canvas and the ground, and cause injury to the cane-user.

8. Partial Pedestrianisation

What is being proposed, of course, is partial pedestrianisation, depending on the time of day. This is confusing for the blind pedestrian, who will find the street safe to access in the current system, and find it dangerous in the semi-pedestrianised state (with one lane). This also means that they will be effectively excluded from the street during the peak dining hours. This has Human Rights ramifications, and is probably illegal.

9. Bollards

Bollards are a hazard for long-cane users. Safer alternatives would have been proposed by VVI were we to have been consulted in time.

10. General

10.1. Encroachment of private business on public realm.
Apart from the worrying aspect of private enterprise being sponsored by the State to annex public realm, there are two related issues:

10.2. Where does the insurance liability lie, for example, if a long-cane-user injures themselves by being scalded by someone bringing a hot drink to the on-street dining area, or if they hurt themselves on the inadequate screens?

10.3. What is the plan to reclaim this public realm for the public once the supposed revitalisation stage is over?

11. Environmental Impact Statement

With such a large diversion of traffic from Stephen’s Green East, surely an Environmental Impact Statement is required? For instance, on Pembroke Street, Leeson Street, Ely Place, Merrion Square,

12. Bus Connects Presumption

Without prejudice to the foregoing, DCC’s final statement that Bus Connects will mean that there will be no buses on Merrion Row from 2024, anyway, presupposes the outcome of a democratic process of planning which has not yet been completed. It reflects wishful thinking, and a nod to the maxim that “if we define things as real, then they become real in their consequences.”

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Have your say about disability rights in Ireland

We’d like to take this opportunity to remind anyone who is blind or partially sighted that they are welcome to become a member of Voice of Vision Impairment, simply by emailing info@vvi.ie with your name and local authority area (if you know it). Membership has no obligations, but lots of benefits.

VVI is a founding member of the DPO Coalition. The DPO Coalition is preparing its first ever Shadow Report to the UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The Coalition wants to know about your experiences and opinion on what you think of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and how it relates to your life. This survey is an opportunity for you to give feedback about your rights.

Your feedback will help the DPO Coalition write the report to the UN Committee about how well the Irish Government is implementing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The survey is split into three sections. Section 1 is information about your profile, section 2 is about your experiences and section 3 is about what you think of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In section 2 Quality of Life the survey asks questions about different areas of life and experiences of discrimination and barriers to participation.

  • Discrimination
  • Supports
  • Healthcare
  • Education and Training
  • Work and Employment
  • Safety from abuse
  • Choosing where to live
  • Transport
  • Social participation
  • Participation in public and political life
  • Justice

The survey can be completed by clicking on the following link:
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Q3VNPSM

The deadline to finish the survey is 12.00pm on 8th April 2021.

FAQs on this type of survey

Do I have to fill in the whole survey?

No, you can pick the questions that are important to you. You can fill in as many questions as you want and you can skip ones that you do not want to answer by pressing the green “Next” button.

Can I add more information later?

Yes, for example, you can answer some questions one day and other questions the next day:

  • Start the survey and answer the questions you can finish on that day.
  • To save your answers on a page make sure you click the green “Next” button or your answers will not be saved.
  • You can close the survey on any page when you are ready to finish on that day.
  • You can use the same link you can open the survey again at a later time.
  • The survey will open on the last page you finished, and you can continue answering questions.
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Newsletter of Voice of Vision Impairment (VVI) – July, 2020 to February, 2021

Below is a brief summary of some of our key (but background) moments which don’t necessarily make it onto the usual website of info@vvi.ie fare.

New Rep

January 2021 got off to a great start, with VVI gaining a new member of our reps team; that is, Ed Harper, based in west Cork, who has an outstanding record in rights-based campaigning, and we count ourselves very lucky to have the benefit of his wisdom.

David Nestor, our second Meath rep, has stepped back from much of his PPN role in order to concentrate on recovering from a serious illness, and we all keenly wish David a very speedy and long-lasting recovery. Many thanks to Gillian Stafford for temporarily, but very ably, stepping into David’s shoes as VVI rep on Meath PPN.

Irish Rail

In June 2020, the long and hard work by VVI’s Barry O’Donnell, campaigning for the provision of mobile phone numbers for commuter passengers wanting to contact “hub stations” for assistance, finally came to fruition. Some creases are still to be ironed out.

The mobile numbers are available at:
https://www.irishrail.ie/travel-information/accessibility-onboard-trains/access-dart-northern-commuter

Barry’s long campaign for better audio signage on Luas regarding dual destinations (e.g., Busaras or the Point), is also making some headway, with noticeable improvements on some lines. Ultimately, we push for platform announcements.

Prisoners with a Visual Impairment

VVI was proud to have attended a conference of civil society organisations with an active interest in The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), and In particular, the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) designed to independently monitor the conditions of Inmates in Irish prisons, as part of the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT0. VVI has an ongoing concern for the conditions of prisoners with visual impairments, and we look forward to having the resources and supports to be able to play our part in the NPM.

Bus Éireann

In August, 2020, VVI joined Bus Éireann’s Disabled User Group, with Barry O’Donnell as our talented representative. VVI is now represented on the Disabled User Groups of Irish Rail, Dublin Bus, and Luas, as well as Bus Éireann.

DPC Network

VVI is a founding member of the DPO Coalition, and in September, 2020, the Coalition became one of the five funded members of the Disability Participation and Consultation Network (DPC Network). In January, VVI officially became a member of the Network in its own right. The Network is the State’s effort at box-ticking Article 4.3 of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). The Network’s start has been inauspicious, and we have concerns that it might be a white elephant, but all this can change if the State finally formally acknowledges the prioritisation of DPOs in consultations, as guaranteed under the CRPD.

DPO Coalition’s Shadow Report

On Wednesday evening, February 10th, eight VVI members, in our own break-out room, participated in the DPO Coalitions focus-group stage of research for the purposes of its shadow report on the State’s implementation of the CRPD, to be published later in the year. Themes covered included health, education, employment, and independent living. The meeting lasted for more than two hours, but genuinely, the feedback has been very positive, and it has given us a renewed confidence in Zoom in facilitating larger meetings of VVI.

Numbers were capped at eight, and so, we had not enough places to meet the demand. However, no-one will be left behind in having their voice count, and anyone who has not so far had a chance to take part, will have a chance in the next researches phases.

VVI’s own shadow report will focus on Article 4.3 of the CRPD, which is a crucial, but macro/legal component of the Convention. Without Article 4.3 being implemented, nothing else can follow. VVI continues to use our position as a national DPO to represent people with a visual impairment in our campaigning, on a daily basis, for accessible policies and design, based on the lived experience of our members, and this focus is always at the core of our overall project.

Regarding other aspects of disability, other DPO Coalition members are inviting outside participation in their own research projects.

AsIAm, the national DPO focussing on autism, is looking for written or recorded submissions regarding its shadow report on the CRPD, and is arranging two Zoom meetings, the first to be held on March 1st, with Alistair de Gaetano.

More information at
https://asiam.ie/webinar-education-rights-uncrpd/

The second is a Healthcare webinar on Wednesday 3rd March from 7-9., with Dr. Mary Doherty, an autistic doctor and researcher. She has co-written research on the barriers to Our link to the first talk with Alistair on Monday 1st March from 7-9 is now live:

More information at https://www.asiam.ie

Disabled Women Ireland (DWI), are inviting all women and non-binary people over the age of 18 who identify, sensory impairment, or mental health condition, as having a disability, to join them in responding to the State’s report on the CRPD. Accordingly, DWI invites relevant parties to three Zoom meetings on any of these dates:

  • Wednesday, March 3rd, 3-5pm
  • Saturday, March 6th, 11am-11pm
  • Monday March 8th, International Womens Day, 7-9pm.

To register, email disabledwomenireland@gmail.com by March 1st, with your name, date of the discussion you’d like to attend, and which topics you would like to discuss, your specific access requirements, if any. Written submissions are also welcome.

More details on www.disabledwomenireland.org

Right to Vote

In October, VVI’s Robbie Sinnott was a guest-speaker at the 10th birthday special webinar celebration of the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA). It was through PILA that Robbie was able to take a case to the High Court in order to win the right to vote for people with a severe visual impairment – a case which he won in 2017. The theme of the webinar was ‘using the law to obtain rights’, a theme very close to VVI’s heart. VVI continues to work with the Dept. of Housing in order to make voting accessible to people with a severe visual impairment. The accessibility gap is still massive. This year will see the inauguration of a new election or voting commission, and we are hoping things will improve in the meantime, and afterwards.

Web Help

In November, Colin Eyre, from Iconology.ie, kindly agreed to offer pro bono services in helping with our website and content. He joins the brilliant Trevor Lyons who has been managing the website by himself up until now. We should say that the site is still very much under construction, and any shortcomings are not a result of Colin’s expertise, but of our own testing and feedback mechanisms which are still ongoing.

Milestone in Public Sector Equality Duty

Under the Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014), every statutory body must take steps to build the protection of the rights of minorities into its framework. Fulfilment of this obligation has generally been zero, or close to zero, since 2014. VVI is pleased to say that it was part of the first consultation of a Local Authority on implementation of its Public Sector Duty. In January, 2021, we participated in a consultative meeting with Meath County Council on its plans to take the Public Sector Duty obligations seriously. More information on the Public Sector Duty can be found at www.ihrec.ie

Call for Members

Membership of VVI is open to anyone in Ireland who has a visual impairment, and all are welcome, unconditionally (apart from the condition of being visually impaired). To join us, please write to info@vvi.ie, and you will be sent your membership number.It’s as easy as that. If you are already a member, please share our invitation to and with anyone you know with a visual impairment.

Issues

VVI reps are tirelessly campaigning on many fronts (most of which are not mentioned in this newsletter). We depend on the pool of expertise of our members. If you are a member of VVI, and if something is a significant problem for you, please let us know, and we will work on the issue in an inclusive way, and make sure that the perspective is counted in our policies and position papers, in line with our Constitution. Again, please contact info@vvi.ie.

Reminder

Anyone who wishes to take part in the DPO Coalition Consultation on your lived experience and issues relating to your visual impairment, which takes place at 7-9pm on Wednesday February 10th, please contact info@vvi.ie before noon on Tuesday. Your voice is not only welcome, it makes us who we are.

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VVI Concerned at Irish Rail Plans in Ashtown, Fingal

VVI Concerned at Irish Rail’s Imminent Closure of Ashtown Level Crossing:

Voice of Vision Impairment (VVI) is concerned about Irish Rail plans to replace the level crossing in Ashtown, Co. Fingal, with a massive detour for pedestrians.

The proposed new underpass alternative will increase local journeys by vulnerable pedestrians from 300m to 1.8km, and the possibility of a tunnel, itself, gives rise to fears of anti-social behaviour at this pedestrian pinch-point.

VVI calls on Irish Rail to investigate the replacement of the level crossing with an adjacent over-track, step-free, footbridge, in order to preserve the independence and quality of life of vulnerable pedestrians in the Ashtown/Coolmine area.

What Irish Rail Says…

“The plan is to close all level crossings on the Maynooth line with the upgrade to DART. With an increase in services, level crossings would be closed to road traffic the majority of the time leading to major road traffic backlogs and are therefore no longer viable.

Irish Rail’s Access Officer informed us on January 14th, 2021

Due to the layout of the Ashtown crossing with adjacent canal, an overhead bridge would not be workable so a new layout going underneath the railway and canal is the preferred proposal. This would have pedestrian walkways and cycle lanes with a suitable slope for mobility impaired members of the public. Access to the station will be maintained.

See link for more information in regard to Ashtown:

https://www.irishrail.ie/Admin/getmedia/d73fabb6-6a02-47ec-90e4-a8137590c5fa/Ashtown-Roadbridge-Graphic-(A4).pdf

VVI’s Detailed Response

In relation to the closure of Ashtown level crossing, VVI has concerns regarding the lengthy new route to cross the tracks via Mill Road, access to Ashtown Station/Shops; as well as security concerns regarding the likelihood of anti-social behaviour at the pedestrian pinch-point that would be created with the installation of the pedestrian/cycling tunnel under the tracks.

We note from the document ‘DARTWest-brochure-english.pdf’, that:

“It is proposed to close the Ashtown level crossing and provide a vehicular road bridge with pedestrian and cycle facilities. The Emerging Preferred Option provides a new road bridge under the existing railway and the Royal Canal that will be located west of the existing Ashtown Level Crossing predominantly following the route of the existing Mill Lane.”

DART West

We also note that “Access to the station will be maintained.”

Currently, pedestrians from the Ashtown Roundabout, Halfway House Pub, Ashbrook, Martin Savage Park etc can mobilise 300m to go to Supervalu Rathbourne for example, crossing the level crossing en route.

The westbound platform for rail services to Castleknock Clonsilla, Maynooth etc can be accessed without having to cross the tracks.

The eastbound platform for rail services to City Centre etc can either be accessed by crossing the footbridge or walking accross the level crossing when it is open to traffic.

We note there is no mention of a proposed lift or accessible (step free) pedestrian overbridge at Ashtown in the plans.

Pedestrians with mobility difficulties will therefore have to travel what we would estimate to be 1.8km detour via the Mill Road railway/canal underbridge/underpass in order to go shopping at Supervalu Rathbourne or indeed just to access the city bound platform at Ashtown Station.

In the case of Coolmine level crossing, we note that:
“It is proposed to close the Coolmine level crossing and provide a vehicular road bridge with a separate pedestrian and cyclist bridge. The Emerging Preferred Option provides a new road bridge crossing over the railway line and Royal Canal that will connect St. Mochta’s Grove / Station Court located to the north with Riverwood Court Road to the south. A new standalone pedestrian and cycle bridge will be provided over the railway line and Royal Canal immediately adjacent to Coolmine Station.”

As well as our safety concerns, the excessive detour just to go shopping or indeed to access the city bound platform when travelling from the Ashtown Roundabout is significant.

Likewise residents with mobility difficulties unable to use the footbridge on the Rathbourne side of the track will have to cover an excessive journey simply to access the Westbound platform to Maynooth etc.

Conclusion

As things stand, the proposed plan is necessarily discriminatory against those with mobility impairments, and is bound to have a negative impact on the lives and independence of disabled pedestrians travelling in the Ashtown/Coolmine area.

We think it essential for safety and mobility/independence of the most vulnerable, that Irish Rail investigate the provision of an accessible footbridge at the to-be-closed Ashtown Level crossing in order to maintain seamless access for pedestrians.

Everyone has the right to safe access to their environment and equal participation in their community.

VVI’s concerns were put to Irish Rail on January 15th, and we await a response.

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Learn about the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

What does it mean for people with Disabilities in Ireland? An
information webinar presented by the Disabled Persons Coalition (DPOCoalition).

This information webinar will take place on Wednesday 27th January, 7pm – 9pm.

You will get information about:

  • The Convention and what it means
  • How you can engage in the Government’s consultation on Ireland’s
  • Draft State Report
  • The DPO Coalition’s planned Shadow Report

Ireland’s Draft Initial State Report under the UN CRPD was published in December 2020 and is open for consultation until March 3rd 2021.

The DPO Coalition is one of four funded Disability Participation and Consultation Network members who will be making a submission on the State’s Draft Report.

The DPO Coalition is also developing an independent report that ‘shadows’ the State’s report and presents an alternative view of how the State has met its obligations under the Convention.

At the webinar we will inform you about further webinars, community consultations and focus group discussions.

What is the DPO Coalition?

The DPO Coalition is an alliance of disabled people and disabled peoples organisations (DPOs) which was established in 2020 to develop and submit a report to the United Nations (UN) on Ireland’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities (CRPD).

Who should attend?

  • Disabled people
  • Anyone interested in the UN CRPD and its process
  • Anyone planning to contribute to the Irish Draft Initial State Party Report

How to Register

If you would like to register contact Independent Living Movement of
Ireland (ILMI) at info@ilmi.ie.

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VVI Concerned About Covid Vaccine Plan

VVI (Voice of Vision Impairment) is Ireland’s national DPO for issues relating to the rights and needs of people with a visual impairment., and we have serious concerns regarding the accessibility of the Covid vaccination programme. These concerns are, along with the required solutions, are set out below:

In sum, they are:

  1. Neglect of the particular vulnerabilities of people with a visual impairment in the prioritization levels.
  2. Lack of planning to make vaccination centres reachable by people with severe visual impairments.
  3. Lack of planning for accessible consent process and accessible information for blind and partially sighted recipients of the vaccines.

More Details and Solutions

1. Prioritization:

In the Provisional Vaccine Allocation Groups published by the Dept. of Health on December 7th, 2020, there is no acknowledgement of the heightened susceptability of people with a severe visual impairment to contracting covid.

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/39038-provisional-vaccine-allocation-groups/#provisional-vaccine-allocation-groups

For example, people with a visual impairment cannot effectively socially distance when we are out and about, since the faculty of sight is the primary sense used in the fulfilment of a person’s social distancing requirements. Also, we often rely on touch much more, for navigation and stability/support, especially in enclosed environments such as public transport. Furthermore, when entering a public building, such as a supermarket, we cannot independently locate hand sanitizers.

Using the rationale and ethical principals laid out in the Dept. of Health document, people with a severe visual impairment, especially those living alone, or living on the streets, should be prioritized to at least the equivalent of level 9 on the current scale.

Level 9 applies to ‘People aged 18-64 living or working in crowded settings’

Rationale: Disadvantaged sociodemographic groups more likely to experience a higher burden of infection.
Ethical Principles: The principles of moral equality, minimising harm (especially in the context of multi-generational households) and fairness are relevant. Prioritising this group recognises that structural inequalities make some people more vulnerable than others to COVID-19

While the situational specifics are clearly not identical, the rationale and ethical principles are clearly equivalent.

Solution:

We are concerned that the vulnerability of thousands with a severe visual impairment is not being recognized or factored into the current roll-out prioritisations. We ask that in the interest of public health and the safety of people with a visual impairment in the State, that this vulnerable sector be better prioritised in the roll-out, at least to the equivalent of what is currently level 9.

2. Accessibility of Vaccination Centres:

We have seen no evidence of planning for people with mobility impairments, including those with visual impairments, regarding how we are supposed to find our way to the vaccination centres. 86% of those with a severe visual impairment are not in official employment, and therefore, are at the lowest end of the socio-economic scale. The principle of moral equality means that we should not have to pay €50+ in taxi-fares in order to get to and from vaccination centres. With large hospital campuses, etc., taxi is usually the only way a blind person can independently access particular clinics etc.

Solution:

While an appointment is being made with a person who has a visual impairment, arrangements should be facilitated whereby a prepaid taxi will collect and return the person for whom the appointment is being made.

3. Accessible Information:

On an interview on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on December 28th, 2020, the Tánaiste, Leo Veradkar, stressed the importance of consent forms to be signed by each person at the vaccination centre, and that when the vaccination had been given, the vaccinated person will be given an After-care advice leaflet and a vaccine record card.

All of this is verified in the HSE’s online information:

https://www2.hse.ie/screening-and-vaccinations/covid-19-vaccine/

The State already has a legal obligation to provide all published material in accessible formats, including online, and in braille. There is no evidence of ongoing or planned work in this regard in the HSE’s advice information.

Solution:

Signed Consent: There are many alternatives to the traditional means of verification, but vaccinators need to be made aware of these alternatives in advance so that blind and partially sighted people receiving the vaccine can be facilitated, and not be discriminated against. VVI (Voice of Vision Impairment) is the only national DPO focussing specifically on the needs and rights of people with a visual impairment, and therefore, need to be prioritized in any consultations in this matter (see General Comment 7 of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities). VVI is happy to advise the State in the alternatives to paper signatures, and all other relevant matters.

Accessible Information: Likewise, we in VVI are happy to fulfil our function by giving our expert advise on the needs of people with a visual impairment in relation to the production of accessible information.

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VVI radio ad on LMFM

VVI placed radio ad’s on LMFM in a drive for new members
The ad was broadcast in 2020 between December 18th and 21st.

VVI ad for LMFM

Transcription of the ad:

Do you sometimes wonder why things aren’t accessible enough?

VVI. Voice of Vision Impairment wants to be a platform for your voice.

We are welcoming new members form County Meath and County Louth.

You can be part of the national and local decision-making process.

So, if you have a visual impairment and if you think that accessible is a right rather than a favour, join VVI today by emailing info@vvi.ie – to join us and make a difference.

That’s info at vvi dot i e.

For more information visit vvi.ie

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VVI Bus Connects Observation

In repsonse to the National Transport Authority’s Bus Connects plan, VVI have raised a number of key concerns.

If concerns are not addressed it could have impacts for the most vulnerable pedestrians (including children under 10 and people over 75), as well as those with severe disabilities.

In our paper “VVI Bus Connects Observation, 2020.12” we outline these impacts and concerns.

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State Publishes Draft Report on its Implementation of Convention on the Rights of Persons

On December 3rd, 2020, the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth published the State’s Initial Report under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on the progress made by the Irish Government in relation to realising the rights of disabled people outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).

VVI (Voice of Vision Impairment) will be participating in providing feedback to the Department through “The Disability Participation and Consultation Network” in co-operation with the Disabled Person Coalition (DPO Coalition), of which VVI is a founder member.

The DPO Coalition has been funded to provide feedback to the Department of Justice on its draft document. The DPO Coalition is currently developing a consultation framework to ensure your opinions are communicated and make a difference. The DPO Coalition, through its member organizations, including VVI, will be asking for your involvement to talk about your lived experience, the challenges you face and the obstacles you are trying to overcome.

VVI currently only has a voluntary staff, but we are committed to doing our best to make sure that the voices of people with a visual impairment (including your voice), are heard.

These consultation meetings will happen early next year and we will be bringing you more news about how to get involved in January.

If you have a visual impairment and are interested in getting involved, or just finding out things as they happen, all you need to do is write to us at info@vvi.ie, and we’d love to have you as a member.

At the same time as this research work is going on, the DPO Coalition will also be developing its own “Shadow Report”. This report is not a Government report, it will be developed by the DPO members to give clear feedback to the UN committee on the members’ views of the Government’s progress.

VVI, ourselves,, will also be preparing our own, independent, shadow report on the State’s implementation of the CRPD, and again, the involvement of as many people with a visual impairment as possible will be greatly valued, and greatly enrich our report.

All of these projects will be an exciting opportunity for us to have our opinions and experience recognised and we look forward to getting you involved.

The members of the DPO coalition are:

As well as VVI (Voice of Vision Impairment), the current members of the DPO Coalition are:

  • As I Am
  • Independent Living Movement Ireland (ILMI)
  • Irish Deaf Society (IDS)
  • National Platform of Self Advocates
  • Disabled Women of Ireland (DWI)

Looking forward to hearing from you,
The VVI team