I thank the witnesses for their public and community service. We tend not to wear political hats here. We are coming at this from the perspective of budgetary oversight. There are many competing demands and, over the course of the year, we meet people representing all of them. It would be fair to say that the Chair and the committee have taken gender budgeting and disability budgeting to heart as one of the significant themes we have dealt with in the past year. We produced a report and brought it to the floor of the Dáil and the attention of the Minister. We raised it with the Minister to encourage him to go beyond including a statement.
This is an issue on which we have kept an eye. We have gone through a limited number of themes this year, have taken it very seriously and will continue to do so. For some of us, including me, the witnesses' first presentation was eye-opening. We continued to look at the issue and engaged with the Scottish Parliament, although that had more to do with gender budgeting. We have done quite a piece of work on it and we will not be letting it go. I am ashamed to say that it opened my eyes. I had not been aware of the impact of budgetary measures or of the lack of consideration. A consciousness is developing. I acknowledge the witnesses are clearly saying that is not enough but it is a first step.
The three Deputies here are in the throes of local election campaigning at the moment. After the referendum last year, it came to light that many places which do not have disabled access are still selected as polling stations. It is mad that whoever is responsible for this selection - in my own county it is the county sheriff - is not conscious of this issue. It needs to be addressed. We will all have received calls from people who were turned away on polling day. That is not good enough. These people were not able to exercise their franchise. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is. The State is providing opportunities to change the world. Referenda are pretty significant things from a democratic perspective because they give the public a right to a say. The most recent referenda certainly have resulted in life-changing decisions. It is not good enough that some people are not able to participate in that. The problem is that the issue disappears after two or three days. That highlights the issue.
With regard to the figures the Disability Federation of Ireland has given, do its representatives believe that people with disabilities are doing proportionately less well in terms of personal assistance hours? Deputies are queuing out the door in their respective community healthcare organisation, CHO, areas, including CHO 7, seeking home help hours for people with early onset dementia and so on, who are not classed as disabled. Are people whom the federation classes as having disabilities faring proportionately less well?
I have tabled a parliamentary question - and I am sure my colleagues will do the same - with regard to the number of social housing units built for people with disabilities. Deputy Brophy and I were members of South Dublin County Council. With regard to the federation's figures, between 5% and 10% of South Dublin County Council developments are reserved for people with disabilities. Units cannot always be reserved in developments of five or ten units, but in developments of 30 to 40 a unit or two is always reserved. I do not know whether that happens nationwide. I believe most social houses are designed to facilitate that nowadays. I have put in the parliamentary question and we will see what the figure is nationally.
The witnesses mentioned something really useful, which is the role of assistive technology in the workplace. I believe it has a role in the home as well. We are fortunate to have Amazon in our constituency. It is running a pilot programme with the university hospital to use its Alexa technology to remind older patients when to take their tablets or to take their exercise, for example. There is an increasing role for assistive technologies in the home which is yet to be explored.
The issue of equality of access to education really needs to be explored. The witnesses might develop on that. This also covers people who are not classed as having disabilities but who have intellectual needs, such as people with autism spectrum disorders, ASD, including Asperger's syndrome and autism. It seems to be very difficult for such people to access traditionally established schools whereas new State-built schools, including Educate Together schools, are more open. This needs to be addressed. There is almost an invisible cultural barrier in this regard.
From a budgetary oversight point of view, we look at what the Government and Departments spend and allocate. Taking the representatives' points on board, is the federation faring less well than other groups that have come before us and who will come before us between now and the next budget? That is my first question. What else do they think we can do-----