The National Disability Authority, NDA, thanks the Chairman and members of the Joint Committee on Disability Matters for the opportunity to make a presentation on the progress being made under the national disability inclusion strategy. The NDA was established in 2000 to provide independent and evidence-informed advice to the Minister on matters of policy and practice relevant to the lives of persons with disabilities, and was given added functions to operate a centre for excellence in universal design from 2007. Universal design promotes the design of the built environment, products, services and ICT so they can be accessed, understood and used by everyone, regardless of age, size, ability or disability.
Our role means we cover a very wide range of policy areas. Our work includes research, advice, guidelines, codes of practice and input to standards, and is also informed by the experiences and views of persons with disabilities captured in surveys and consultation exercises. We will be assigned an additional function in relation to the provision of information and statistics to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, to support that body in its role as the independent monitoring mechanism for the UNCRPD.
The NDA has a role in supporting the implementation of the national disability inclusion strategy through the delivery of its own committed actions, as well as the development of annual independent assessments of progress. Since the strategy began, we have published two such assessments, with the third due in early 2021. To prepare our assessments, the NDA considers biannual reports prepared by Departments on progress against their commitments under the strategy, but also our broader research and policy work, informed by the lived experience of persons with disabilities and their family members or carers. The NDA has also developed a suite of indicators to show the overall outcomes associated with implementation of the strategy. They are measured through robust and reliable data sources, such as CSO datasets or data captured by public bodies. Our first report against these indicators was published earlier this year.
The national disability inclusion strategy is one of the mechanisms to drive progressive realisation of the goals of the UNCRPD. A key commitment within the first half of the strategy’s lifetime was the ratification of the UNCRPD in Ireland. The NDA recognises that further work is required to facilitate ratification of the optional protocol. The NDA has also welcomed the publication of key reports during the strategy to guide policy development and have a meaningful impact on the lives of persons with disabilities, including the Make Work Pay report, the report of the task force on personalised budgets, the ongoing implementation of the comprehensive employment strategy, the pilot programme for the school inclusion model and the ongoing implementation and review of the access and inclusion model.
The NDA has also identified areas where further progress is required in order to deliver the national disability inclusion strategy and to realise the goals of the UNCRPD. These include commencement of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015, development of protection of liberty legislation, reform of the Mental Health Act 2001, passage of the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016, commencement of the Irish Sign Language Act 2017 and full commencement of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004.
The NDA also notes that progress in the implementation of some actions within the national disability inclusion strategy has been slower than anticipated, and advises further focus on these areas, including continued work to implement the Time to Move on from Congregated Settings policy, improvements in the provision of statutory assessments of need, as per Part 2 of the Disability Act, and continued focus on the actions committed under the comprehensive employment strategy. Last year’s mid-term review of the strategy allowed the opportunity to take stock of actions which needed to be revised, and to include new actions in recognition of emerging priorities, informed by consultation with persons with disabilities and their families.
There are challenges to the implementation of some of the range of policies and programmes in relation to disability. In the NDA's work, we play a role in identifying these challenges and working with stakeholders to consider potential solutions, informed by evidence. Some of the cross-cutting challenges include the absence of dedicated funding to transition to new models of service, challenges in supporting structured cross-departmental working, as many barriers can only be addressed through a whole-of-system approach, and challenges in gathering and accessing harmonised data on disability.
As Ireland prepares to deliver its first state party report to the UN monitoring committee, the NDA is working to collect and analyse data on a number of the articles of the UNCRPD that address significant aspects of the lives of persons with disabilities, such as education, employment and independent living. We also advise that it will be important to consider what ongoing implementation of the UNCRPD looks like, in particular as the current national disability inclusion strategy comes to an end in 2021. The NDA notes the commitment in the revised national disability inclusion strategy to develop an overall implementation plan for the UNCRPD and separate departmental plans. It will be critical that Departments and their agencies translate the aims of the strategy into specific and measurable action plans for implementation at local level, in keeping with the Government policy of mainstreaming.
We would like to take this opportunity to highlight the extent to which the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of persons with disabilities, including through increased unemployment for those working in sectors vulnerable to restrictions, the closure or reduced capacity of day and respite services, gaps in educational provision for children with disabilities, reduced or delayed access to non-Covid health interventions and increased isolation for persons with disabilities. We recognise that the pandemic has brought additional challenges and delays to the implementation of some commitments under the national disability inclusion strategy. However, there has also been opportunities to learn and explore new ways of working that could inform future directions for disability services and supports.
The NDA advises the importance of a whole-of-government approach to disability, as encapsulated by the national disability inclusion strategy. While there may be some gaps in the areas covered by the strategy, and while progress on some actions has been slower than anticipated, it nevertheless serves as a mechanism to co-ordinate cross-government activity, and a means of focusing attention on this key area. This, in turn, will enable Ireland to continue on its journey of progressive realisation of the goals of the UNCRPD. We will continue to provide support for implementation through the provision of evidence-informed advice and guidance and would be happy to provide more detail on any area summarised within this statement.