Minister Finian McGrath Launches National Disability Inclusion Strategy

 

Read our press release: National Disability Inclusion Strategy Press Release  

 

Minister of State for Disability Issues, Finian McGrath has today (July 14th) 2017, launched the National Disability Inclusion Strategy (NDIS) at Croke Park in Dublin. The Plan will run from 2017 - 2021.

The National Disability Inclusion Strategy comes two years after the expiration of the most recent National Disability Implementation Strategy for what is now regarded as a failed National Disability Strategy 2004-2015.

The National Disability Strategy promised much and delivered little including a Disability Act which offered merely an assessment of need without any corresponding entitlement to a service. Even with this reduced right, the assessment is only open to people born after 2002 and the compliance rates for assessment within the timescale are at 25% nationally and as low as 6% in some CHO areas.

Added to this, the failure to commence the Education of Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, Citizens Information Act and the absence of Sectoral Plans since 2006 amounts to a litany of broken promises by subsequent governments.

The National Disability Inclusion Strategy promises more, with 32 objectives covering a multitude of actions aimed towards the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

At a speech delivered during the launch of the strategy there was no mention of the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), despite the first action in the strategy being to remove all obstacles to ratification.  There appears to be limited evidence that the NDIS will, in fact, deliver on the changes needed to comply with the provisions of the UNCRPD.  

The NDIS surrenders any contact with its failed predecessor with scant reference to advocacy, limited vision in relation to promoting equality, mainstreaming disability policy and is centred on traditional disability service providers.    

The new strategy identifies eight themes and a number of objectives and actions to address them. The key points under each of the eight themes are:

Equality and choice

With a welcome commitment to develop and roll out a reform and culture change programme under the objective of ensuring that people with disabilities are treated with dignity and respect and free from abuse it is nonetheless worrying that the only agencies associated with delivering on this action are the HSE and disability service providers. To truly ensure a change culture, a broad range of stakeholders need to be involved including non-disability related service providers. Similarly, while the strategy commits to embed and promote the presumption of capacity to make decisions into the way services are designed and delivered (consistent with the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015), there is no evidence that this will be done in a mainstream manner involving health and social care professional training colleges and professional bodies as well as those working in public and private bodies.

Joined up policies and public services

It is positive that joined up working is recognised as key theme in the strategy alongside the commitment to producing an annual report on the implementation of the strategy.

The strategy commits to working on improving transitions into, within and out of education for children and young people with disabilities through joined up working by a number of agencies.

However, a measure of how well joined-up working is working would be less need for specific disability strategies as mainstream strategies will meet the needs of all people, including those with disabilities.Very few actions in the strategy involve mainstream partners. A commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities are reflected in the Strategy Statements of each government department would go some way towards addressing this.  

Education

In 2008, the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act was put on ice and with its absence from today's strategy it appears to be consigned to history. This regrettable decision is another clear indicator that the previous disability strategy has failed. There is no commitment to developing a system of individual education plans in the strategy. The commitment to promoting participation in third level education by people with disabilities is a hollow one without any specific actions attached.

Instead of receiving on the job training, teachers should be trained in autism prior to teaching in ASD units,  in order that kids in ASD classes reach their potential and that they are being given the right supports within the education system

Employment

The plan makes commitments to further implement existing employment strategies.There needs to be a commitment to provide people with disabilities with meaningful employment rather than repetitive or unfulfilling work. People with disabilities and their families tend to have low expectations regarding career possibilities and this needs to be addressed. People with disabilities must be paid a living wage and must not work for free or remain on training programmes indefinitely. Supports to find employment must be extended to those with high support needs.

Health and wellbeing

The commitments to health and wellbeing in the strategy are limited. There is nothing in the plan aimed at addressing the poorer health and wellbeing outcomes experienced by people with disabilities or the role that poverty plays in this. There is no mention of the need to address a lower uptake in health-screening programmes by people with disabilities. The strategy is silent on the need to address cost of disability.

Person-centred disability services

The commitment to changing the model from one of “care” to one of “support” to achieve maximum independence is very welcome and is more reflective of the social model of disability. However, responsibility is again left only to the HSE and disability service providers. It is vital that social and health care training colleges and professional bodies are also involved.

The plan contains actions on assessment and provision of services for children and adults with disabilities. However, there is no indication that the current delays in accessing services and having an assessment of need completed within the required timeframe will be addressed.

It is most welcome that the plan commits to ensuring that Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) inspections of disability services have a particular focus on quality of life outcomes but there is no commitment to extending the scope of HIQA's powers to other care environments or day-services. 

Despite the loose commitment to support people with disabilities to be active citizens, the Strategy is largely silent on the urgent need for the provision of a broad range of advocacy supports, including self-advocacy. Advocacy supports are vital to ensure people can actively participate where there are barriers.

Living in the community

It is welcome that the strategy aims to ensure that people with disabilities are supported to live an independent life a home of their choosing in the community. However, the actions associated with this objective do not focus on the supports required to do so (e.g. personal assistance).

Transport and accessible places

The strategy commits to the improvement of both urban and rural transport with a focus on linking up the different forms of transport. However, again no specific details are provided. The provision of accessible transport is currently so poor that strong progress is needed on this action in order to make a real difference in people’s lives.

Conclusion

The National Disability Inclusion Strategy has been a long time in development and the finalised product covers a large amount of actions aimed at promoting inclusion.

In our equality and human rights statement, Inclusion Ireland has defined 'inclusion' as about people being visible, taking part, being involved and being considered. It involves valuing and respecting diversity.

The National Disability Inclusion Strategy cannot be said to be truly promoting inclusion. For true inclusion to be achieved, a broader range of stakeholders would need to be involved beyond the traditional disability-related agencies.There is no evidence that national policies relating to e.g. women, positive ageing or social inclusion will be influenced by this strategy or that they will work concomitantly. 

Instead, a number of measures are proposed aimed at relieving some of the exclusionary practices that currently exist without any real vision as to how to ensure that people with disabilities are included in their communities on an equal basis with others. There appears to be a presumption that most people with disabilities are in contact with the Health Service Executive while Health Research Board and Census figures bear out that this is not true.    

Many of the actions in the strategy are vague or general in nature and lack any sort of detail as to how they will be implemented. Many other actions are replications of previous actions or continuations of previously undelivered promises. A clear and well-resourced implementation plan will be needed with specified timeframes and responsibilities if we are to avoid the implementation failures of previous versions of the National Disability Strategy.