New Bill aimed at improving access, inclusion and advocacy debated in the Seanad

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The Community Participation (Disability) Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2019 was debated in the Seanad at second stage on Wednesday 19th of June. The Bill was brought forward by Senator John Dolan and seconded by Senator Colette Kelleher. The Bill will facilitate people with disabilities to participate fully in their communities and to do ordinary things in ordinary places. It will support steps towards implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in some key areas of access in public spaces.

There are four key areas of the Bill including:

  1. To require relevant publicly accessible buildings to provide a ‘changing places’ facility (referred to in the Bill as an “accessible change facility”
  2. To require local authorities and others to build ‘inclusive’ playgrounds applying the principles of universal design
  3. To require private bus operators licenced by the state to meet the accessibility standards of public buses.
  4. To ensure that personal advocates supporting people with disabilities to access social services have statutory powers. This will include the appointment of a Director of Personal Advocacy as provided for in the Citizen’s Information Act 2007 but which was not enacted.

This Bill will require cooperation between the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and Transport, Tourism and Sport. It will require changes to existing building regulations and planning and licensing laws.

In his response to the Bill, Minister with responsibility for Disability, Finian McGrath stated that he supports the aim of the Bill. He did point out however that although the government is not opposing the Bill at this stage there are significant technical, practical and cost implications which must be considered and investigated.

To make Changing Places Facilities more widely available in public buildings requires change in building regulations, however the Minister recommends amending the Part M technical document rather than the regulations themselves. The Minister also expressed concern about retrospectively fitting facilities due to the cost implications.

The Minister expressed concern that there are no current standards for universal design in playgrounds, and sourcing of equipment. More research needs to happen before a statutory footing takes place. In relation to transport, the Minister stated a definition of “access” is required and further investigation into the feasibility of the transport provisions in the Bill.

In relation to advocacy, Minister McGrath explained that appointing a Director of the Personal Advocacy Service would have significant cost implications without necessarily improving the service. He mentioned that there is work being done to give advocates in the National Advocacy Service more statutory powers.

The Bill was supported by all Senators present and will proceed to debate at Committee stage on Tuesday 25 June 2019.