The Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) has warned of "chronic shortfalls" in the provision of transport, social housing and personal assistance services for people with physical disabilities which are preventing them from living independently with dignity and respect.
Speaking at the launch of the IWA pre-budget submission for 2020, advocacy officer Joan Carthy criticised the Government for choosing virtual connectivity over the physical connectivity needs of people with disabilities.
“The Government has been able to find €3 billion to fund a national broadband plan to connect people virtually, yet it still will not connect people with disabilities physically to their communities for a fraction of the cost,” said Ms Carthy. “People with disabilities are so disconnected and if €3 billion can be found so you can very simply look up information but they can’t find the funding to help people with disabilities to just have some equal opportunities, there’s something very wrong with society.”
Citing research carried out by Independent TD Tommy Broughan, Ms Carthy said it would cost the equivalent of 4 per cent of the broadband budget (€125 million) to make all public service buses and trains wheelchair accessible. At present, people with disabilities must inform the Dart four hours before they use the service and Iarnród Éireann 24-48 hours ahead of travelling on its trains, said Ms Carthy.
“We have to reach a place where we can actually just arrive at the train station like anybody else, change our minds when we want to and arrive when we want to.”
The IWA has also called for 7 per cent of all social housing to be accessible to wheelchair users, warning that more than 5,000 people with disabilities are waiting for housing.
Niamh Ní Ruarí, who has used a wheelchair since she was 18 years old, says increased funding is urgently needed for personal assistance care. Ms Ní Ruarí, who has a two-year-old son, currently receives 14 hours of assisted care per week. However, she says the current system assumes her parents will care for her the rest of the time as she lives at home.
“They are looking for any excuse not to give me more hours. I’d like the Government to ask family members what they need rather assuming they can just provide care.”
Personal assistant services are key to independent living for people with disabilities, says Ms Carthy. “We don’t want to be well cared for, we want to be able to live independently. Our parents age, our brothers and sisters age, they have their own family life. We want to have the same opportunities as they have and if we have those opportunities we can take up employment, we can participate in society.”