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.

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:

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):

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.

This research-based warning against shared space is repeated in the British context in Holmes (2015).

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:

This is, in turn, based on our Manual of Accessible Planning for Pedestrians:

and Manual of Accessible Public Spaces

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;
  • 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?