It has been Government policy for the last fifteen years, and a legal requirement for the last ten years, that mainstream public services would be planned and delivered to include people with disabilities.
Opening the conference, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald TD said that
“Hearing from people with disabilities, who have been driving the mainstreaming agenda, is a crucial part of today’s programme.”
At the conference she launched the report How Walkable is Your Town?, produced by Age Friendly Ireland in partnership with the National Disability Authority. This report gives the findings of a series of ‘walkabouts’ by a diverse group of people at different stages in life, and including people across different types of disability, to identify examples of obstacles and good practice in the daily environment of our streets and towns.
Minister Fitzgerald said
“This report is an excellent example of practical research having a positive impact on the participation of people with disabilities in their local communities.”
She also welcomed the delegation from Northern Ireland led by Mr Stephen Farry, MLA, Minister for Employment and Learning – and spoke on the conference theme. She added:
“I welcome the cross border focus of this conference and the continuous opportunities it presents for ongoing co-operation and learning between Departments and agencies in both jurisdictions.
Minister of State, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, TD, (with responsibility for New Communities, Culture and Equality and Drugs Strategy) emphasised the Government’s commitment to including people with disabilities in the mainstream:
“The Government’s continuing commitment to mainstreaming is emphasised by the recent launch of the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for people with disabilities and the new round of public consultations on the development of a renewed National Disability Inclusion Strategy.
Minister Fitzgerald and I will continue to work with our colleagues across Government to deliver the necessary changes to allow for improvements in the lives of people with disabilities.”
The National Disability Authority’s Chairperson, Helen Guinan, said:
“After 15 years of mainstreaming as Government policy, there is still work to be done. We need to build on what has been achieved to date. Today we will hear a lot of great examples. This learning has to be captured and embedded across the public sector.”
The conference includes practical examples from North and South of the border of how disability is mainstreamed in designing and delivering different public services and how key enablers, such as leadership, good planning and cultural change, are critical in the process.
How Walkable is Your Town? – key points.
- Delivering mainstream services to people with disabilities is established government policy since 2000, and is underpinned by obligations for public services that are set out in the Disability Act 2005.
- The National Disability Authority, through its Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, provides guidance and support to the public sector on producing universally designed services. In 2014 the Centre worked with Age Friendly Ireland on Walkability Audits, to inform the development of an effective audit tool for Irish roads and streets. The audits were carried out as part of the 2014 Age Friendly Town Programme, using a Universal Design approach.
- Walkability audits were conducted in eight Irish towns and urban centres. The result was the “How Walkable is Your Town?” report.
- The key outcomes from these audits revealed that:
- People were for the most part happy with the structures of their towns, which on the whole provided pleasant environments to walk in.
- People were not as happy with poor design and maintenance of footpaths, obstacles on footpaths making it difficult to get around and the need for more pedestrian crossings.
- The behaviour of people using the towns can really impact on how walkable the towns are, for example, people parking on footpaths, blocking crossing points and using accessible parking spaces when they shouldn’t.