A target for the “decongregation” of people with disabilities from institutions by this year “will not be met” largely because of a lack of housing in the State, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
National Disability Authority director Siobhán Barron told the Oireachtas housing committee that a lack of rental housing and social housing and delays in "tendering and re-tendering" for specific projects had resulted in a shortage of homes for people in institutions to move to.
“While decongregation of persons with disabilities from institutional living arrangements to community living continues, it has been acknowledged that the original timeframe of 2019 for decongregation will not be met,” she said.
For people with disabilities in general, securing private rental accommodation was particularly difficult, she said, with many “priced out”.
In cases where people could afford housing, they often found landlords were reluctant to rent to them.
“Persons with disabilities are more than twice as likely to report discrimination relating to housing and over 1.6 times more likely to live in poor conditions,” Ms Barron said.
While it was understandable, she said, that scarce social housing resources were being directed towards dealing with those in emergency accommodation and experiencing homelessness, “the issue of homelessness for those with disabilities and mental health difficulties needs particular attention”.
Tony Cunningham, national director of housing for the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA), said "fully wheelchair accessible" social and private housing needed to be built.
“In terms of understanding ‘housing need’ people who are full time wheelchair users need housing that is designed differently to standard housing,” he said. “Standard housing is not built to this type of design, standard housing is built to comply with Part M of the building regulations which requires housing to be ‘visitable housing’.”
He said this meant housing to which a wheelchair user could gain access, and have access to the main ground floor rooms, and that there was a ground floor toilet, but not these were not designed to be lived in by people with disabilities.
Wheelchair users were being “inappropriately placed in nursing homes and hospitals,” he said. Local Authorities need to strategically plan to ensure that 7 per cent of every social housing development is designed to be wheelchair accessible.
Mr Cunningham said organisation such as the IWA needed to be consulted at the design stage of new estates, otherwise it would be too late to make them suitable for people with disabilities.
“This would not be ‘wheelchair exclusive housing’, it’s housing that can be lived in by wheelchair users and everyone. But unless this is considered before planning, at the design stage, without that we won’t have sustainable communities we will have exclusive communities.”