I am honoured to be nominated by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, as chairperson designate of the National Disability Authority. I am looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity to oversee the important work the authority does as the independent statutory advisory body to the Minister on disability policy and practice and in promoting universal design.
I have spent many years working with or on behalf of children and young adults with intellectual, physical and sensory disabilities. I recently retired from my post as principal of St. Paul’s special school in Cork. I have been closely involved over many years in policy development and implementation at national level with a number of organisations, including the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the National Council for Special Education and the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to gain a national and international perspective on advancements and improvements for persons with disabilities. My grounding as a teacher and principal in a busy school meant I always had an eye on the practical implementation of the policies and strategies in question.
As principal of a large school for students with highly complex needs, my priorities were to lead, encourage, counsel and guide the immediate and wider school community towards providing the highest standard of education and care for our students. Parents and families were a central part of that community, which also included the invaluable work of multidisciplinary team members.
The National Disability Authority, under the National Disability Authority Act 1999, is an independent public body whose principal function is to provide evidence based information and advice to Government on policy and practice relevant to the lives of persons with disabilities. The authority is in a unique position in that it sits independently of the disability sector, Departments and State agencies. It is not a charity or service provider, nor is it a representative or campaigning organisation. It has, therefore, a critical role to be an independent adviser. It has a duty to ensure that the information and advice it delivers to the Minister for Justice and Equality, other Ministers and officials are informed by robust evidence, research and knowledge of the lived experience of persons with disabilities and an understanding of the policy context.
While the overarching role of the National Disability Authority is to provide advice, other functions include providing advice on co-ordination of services to people with disabilities, undertaking or commissioning research and developing standards and guidelines as well as monitoring their implementation. The authority has an important role as an honest broker, working with the relevant stakeholders to identify realistic and achievable actions to progress the inclusion agenda in line with national strategies and international conventions.
The National Disability Authority also has the highly interesting role of promoting universal design, which refers to the design of places, products, services, information, communications and information technology in order that they can be readily accessed, used or understood by people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. I am conscious that other countries are keen to follow the operation of the centre for excellence in universal design and that the centre is playing a key role in standards development at national and international levels.
The National Disability Authority's strategic plan sets out the main areas of work in which it is engaged. Key goals include the provision of guidance on the implementation of the national disability strategy, which covers all persons with disabilities and most policy areas. Disability needs to be embedded into all mainstream policy and mainstream services. While we are at an early stage of this journey, the national disability strategy can provide the means of driving this forward. Another key area of work is in supporting the implementation of the significant change programme in disability services aimed at putting the person at the centre of the service and supporting people with disabilities to live ordinary lives in ordinary places. People with disabilities need to be enabled to choose where and how they live in order that they can participate to their full potential in the community alongside everyone else. A further key goal of the National Disability Authority is to work on a ten-year comprehensive employment strategy. Such a strategy could deliver real change in the lives of those who have or acquire a disability. Other major areas of work include the provision of advice on ratifying and implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and promoting universal design.
The board of the National Disability Authority, which I have been asked to chair, has a majority of people with disabilities, their representatives, families or carers. This will ensure our work is guided by people's real, lived experience of disability. As with all State bodies, the board is subject to the highest standards of ethics and of governance, including the code of practice on the governance of State bodies and public procurement rules.
I look forward to chairing the board and providing strategic direction to the executive as the National Disability Authority, NDA, plays its role in guiding policy and practice that can enable people with disabilities in Ireland to participate in Irish society as equal citizens. My years of experience in motivating people from a wide range of backgrounds and experience to work collaboratively towards excellent service development and provision will be useful in my role as chair of the National Disability Authority.