Oireachtas group told of failure to pick disabled election candidates

Despite 650,000 people with disabilities in State ‘relative political silence’ is noticeable

Committee told of wheelchair ramp fitted at polling station in last general election was not installed correctly. File photograph: Getty

Committee told of wheelchair ramp fitted at polling station in last general election was not installed correctly. File photograph: Getty

 

There has been a failure by political parties to select disabled candidates for election, the Disability Stakeholder Group (DSG) has told an Oireachtas committee.

Despite there being 650,000 people with disabilities in Ireland, there is “relative political silence” when it comes to disability, the voluntary group said.

All political parties should undertake a cross-party pledge to promote and support the election of disabled candidates, it told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters on Thursday.

Vivian Rath, a member of the DSG, said the “extremely low representation” of disabled people in the Dáil and the Senate “reflects the inacessibility of the current environment”.

Dr Rath said disabled people face many barriers to candidature including extra costs, unavailability of sign language interpreters, inaccessible meeting venues, information and transport.

In addition to a cross-party pledge, Dr Rath also recommended “reasonable accommodation” be provided for disabled electoral candidates and a fund to support them.

He said guidance should be given to county councils to assist the participation of disabled people.

Dr Rath said by being left out of decision making, disabled people “do not have the opportunity to contribute to our own destiny”.

A survey of disabled voters completed by Dr Rath with Maria Ní Fhlatharta from NUIG after the 2020 general election found that 52 per cent reported facing barriers to voting. These included inaccessible polling stations, an absence of information in accessible formats and a lack of personal assistance or having nobody to bring them to vote.

‘Dismissive response’

Annette Costello, also a member of DSG, said she found that the wheelchair ramp fitted at her polling station in the last general election was not installed correctly.

“Upon reporting this to the returning officer as a safety concern, I received a dismissive response and was told I was the only person who had complained about it and three other wheelchair users had already voted that day,” she said.

“In my experience, returning officers and polling station staff are not properly trained in disability equality . . . As I recall, there was only one wheelchair accessible polling booth at my polling station.”

Ms Costello said she and others with disabilities had also experienced difficulties with the postal voting system and the application process is “unnecessarily complicated and based on a medical model of disability and requires certification from a GP for the first application”.

South Dublin County Cllr Carly Bailey, who has a disability, said the HSE’s new assessment of needs system is “not for purpose”.

“I have been through this process under the old system with my son. We had to fight for proper diagnostic testing which concluded that my son is autistic,” she said. Throughout this time, I was advised that a diagnosis was not important and that I was labelling my child.”

Ms Bailey said her son was referred for an assessment of need in 2014 but by the time he completed the process, “like so many others”, he had aged out of early intervention and could not use its services.

“Services given during that crucial time have a much greater chance of being effective due to brain development and plasticity they experience during those years,” she added.

“He missed out like thousands of children who are left waiting while there are not enough therapists or resources provided.”