A new report commissioned by the disability sub-committee of Wexford Public Participation Network (PPN) has highlighted a major under-representation of disabled people in our decision making bodies and 'an alarming lack of consultation, engagement and representation'.
According to the report, Co Wexford has one of the highest percentages of people with disabilities in Ireland with over 15% of the population, or 23,000 people. These people face challenges in their daily lives that non-disabled people do not and must navigate an environment that was not designed with their needs in mind. Therefore, the report states, meaningful consultation and engagement with decision-makers is required.
However, this hasn't necessarily been forthcoming. Despite a PPN disability sub-committee documenting and forwarding quite a number of concerns and issues on behalf of disabled people from across the county, the report states that the response from local authorities, government departments and statutory bodies was 'disappointing'.
'The poor response is frustrating for the disability sub-committee who had promised the disability community to respond to all concerns raised,' the report stated.
It also highlighted a significant gap in the structure of the Wexford PPN for the representation of people with disabilities. People with disabilities found they had no route to bring their concerns to decision makers for consideration.
Within Wexford PPN, a proposal has been made to establish a 'Disability Linkage Group' which would facilitate the election of people with disabilities onto Special Policy Committees (SPCs), 'ensuring they have their voice heard by decision makers and have the opportunity to influence decisions that concern them'.
Breda O'Sullivan of the People With Disabilities Wexford (PWDW) group said that better engagement with representatives and officials is key going forward.
'The majority of disabled people acquire their disability during their lifetime, meaning that anyone can become disabled,' she noted.
'Disabled people only ask to be treated equally and shouldn't have to ask for "special help".
'In order to make life better for disabled people in Wexford, politicians, local representatives and council officials need to start talking to people with the disability,instead of talking about them. People with disabilities need a forum where their voices are heard by decision-makers.'
This is something which was underlined by PPN Disability Sub Committee Chairman Pat Rath.
'Inclusion is everyone's business, and we all have a role to play,' he said.
'Many of the barriers identified can easily be removed. We have nothing to fear by making a place at the table for persons with disabilities and by giving them a say in how they live their own lives.
'By re-imagining our policy and practises, by changing our mind-set and adjusting our structures to accommodate all our citizens, Wexford can take its place as a truly Model County.'
The report makes a number of recommendations, including urging Wexford County Council to establish a Disability Consultative Group, with an appropriate budget, to draft an action plan for 2021 in order to meet the requirements of the National Disability Strategy and look at improving areas like accessibility, housing, transport, independent living and employment.
Employment being a key area of concern, the report calls for an employment strategy to be drafted, making Wexford employers aware of the significant benefits of including people with disabilities at all levels of the workforce in the public and private sectors.
It also recommends the implementation of disability awareness training for local authority staff and PPN committee members to promote greater engagement with people with disabilities.
As a case study, the report highlighted the wonderful work that has been done to make Kilmuckridge an accessible village, stating that 'the commitment and support of local business leaders, an active tidy towns committee, the Kilmuckridge development group, disabled activists and the many unsung heroes who worked in the background deserve to be acknowledged.'