Living in the Community: Full Report
Issued on February 19 2014
The success in blurring the lines between inclusion and exclusion sometimes makes it difficult to see where the needs and responses associated with disabilities begin and end. Level or ramped pathways; automatic opening and closing doors; audible pedestrian crossings; destination announcements on transport; the availability of “hearing loops”; a guide dog”s head protruding from beneath a table in a restaurant; accessible toilets, and Braille on medical packs – all of these have been supported by the power of goodwill in the community.
The fuel for the engine of goodwill is derived from the work of voluntary organisations and people with disabilities. While some of the areas mentioned above now come under legislative requirements, they had their beginnings in campaigns by the voluntary sector, made up as it is from the people with disabilities themselves, their families and friends, aided by the professionals who help to interpret individual needs into person-centred solutions.
Voluntary organisations that form the subject of this study support the independence and person-centred rights of people with disabilities through various resources and supports. So invisible have these supports become to the uninformed observer that they might not be seen to exist at all but they are there in the episodic help with a life-style issue presenting today and which might not present again for months or years. The interventions of the organisations explored in this study form a type of virtual hyper-market where people with diverse forms of disabilities and very particular needs come for a specialism, a unique form of help or advice or hardware that sustains them as neighbours, participants, spectators and as engaged and disengaged as they wish to be.
The above is not the language of illness or health. Too often we continue even today, to look at people with disabilities, through a lens which sees them just emerged from the hospital, on their way to a rehabilitation centre or on their way back into medical care. In the last census, 565,000 people declared themselves as having different forms of disability. These are the people for whom the organisations in this study exist as facilitators of their independence and ameliorators of their disabilities.
It is true that there are people with disabilities currently living in inappropriate settings, and this needs to change. Equally true is the fact that there are many more people in the community who need disability specific supports and supported access to mainstream services to live ordinary lives. Community based services and supports make key public services like health, housing and education inclusive, in line with the National Disability Strategy, thereby contributing to the state meeting its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Planning to move people out of inappropriate settings into communities, without at the same time planning to support existing community based services and supports does not make sense. This research contributes to our understanding of the role of disability organisations in providing these kinds of services and supports that enable people to continue living independently in their communities.
John Dolan, CEO, Disability Federation of Ireland
Desmond Kenny, Chairperson, Not for Profit Business Association