RAISING THE STANDARD

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The 2003 World Games raised the standard for all of us. As well as the waving flags, we also lifted our standards of organisation and fáilte for the huge event. The 2003 World Games GOC staff, the mighty phalanx of volunteers, host towns and families, fundraisers and sponsors—all are to be mightily congratulated. But most of all the Special Olympics athletes whose spirit moved us beyond all expectation. There can be no doubt that, overwhelmingly, the Irish public has shown itself fully behind people with intellectual disability. The welling of pride, solidarity, emotion and common humanity experienced during the 2003 Special Olympics produced a feel-good factor that far out-matched Ireland’s emotional ecstasy during World Cup ’90-

During their so-hard-earned ‘fifteen minutes of fame’, each international athlete ably represented millions of unsung colleagues in intellectual disability around the world. The mind-boggling €36,000,000 raised for the staging of the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games (and the €20m donations ‘in kind’) enabled a celebration of the human spirit and respect for diversity which had immeasurable value.

Let us hope that the Games will also have palpable spin-off for all our Irish people with disabilities. In addition to our 400+ athletes who enjoyed this experience of a lifetime, there are thousands of other Irish people with disabilities who equally deserve their needs to be recognised—to give them a lifetime of experience. The Special Olympics touched very many of us—but it is up to us and our elected representatives to reach all our citizens with rights-based, person-centred services.

During May the NDA published the second draft of its proposed national standards for disability services in Ireland. The National Federation of Voluntary Bodies and individual intellectual disability service providers have welcomed the NDA’s leadership in developing the standards and, most importantly, the centrality of the principle of person-centred services—in contrast to a ‘service programme’ which can lead to fragmented approaches with respect to individual service users.

The process of finalising and piloting the standards continues. Meanwhile tantalising questions remain, among them:

  • Who will be the ‘independent and impartial body’ contracted by the NDA to monitor/assess Irish services on their behalf?
  • Who will monitor the level of adequacy and consistency in government funding for disability services? Given that both statutory and non-statutory services are funded by the Department of Health and Children, will responsibility for the implementation of expenditure-dependent service elements lie with the funding Department, as much as with the services?
  • Without any clear Irish legislative framework on the issues of consent and guardianship, how are the criteria for decision-making and advocacy to be determined?

Our focus articles touch on how parents are told that their child has a disability. Breaking such news can never be easy. Perhaps hearing from new parents about their experiences—some quite good, some not at all good—may help health professionals consider how they might improve their own approach to ‘breaking the news’.

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