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The Disability Invisibility Cloak in #GE11

February 8th, 2011 · 8 Comments · Disability, Elections, Equality, General Election 2011, Irish Politics

There is a danger when we do get to the ‘social’ aspects of the campaign that the issue of rights and position of people who are minorities or oppressed and disadvantaged in our society will be reduced to economic units.

A danger? In fact it’s a sure cert, because for the past few years the position of people with disabilities in society has been relegated to a patronising rant to take out at budget time where opposition spokespeople decry the cuts to the blind pension or the carers allowance.  At other times service providers either individually or through networks or via desperate parents are portrayed on news programmes either as being heroes or being cut to the quick and we see demos and wheelchairs and tragic stories and it disappears until the next crisis.

Disability in this election is invisible, we don’t even get the ‘cuts hurt the old, the sick and the handicapped’ mantra but we might yet(I’m thankful for that omission so far) . The right of someone to an assessment of their needs and the assistance to see those needs met was outlined in the Disability Act 2005 – six years ago. Since then very few children and no adults have had that assessment done under the act. While there are plenty of access officers and meetings by public agencies trying to make their service more accessible, making the lives of people with disabilities better has been left to be forgotten about.

Lots of services are provided – 600 organisations paid nearly €2 billion by the HSE to provide services but no standards to check the services and little choice to move. There are many great staff, and lots of managers, plenty of conditions which are against international best practice and far too much ‘be grateful for what you get’ or people not knowing or being told about what they should get.

The right to a quality of life, a choice about where you live and who you live with, the supports you need in order to live in your community, to work, to go for a pint, to vote in an election. None of these are seen as important in this election. Disability is not mentioned in the FF manifesto, it is not in the FG manifesto though may appear in a policy yet to be released and is not in the Labour manifesto either except to be referred to as a social service but no plans for it or understanding of it.

Disability is not a health issue – it is one of social services and we should expect out politicians to treat it as thus.  Social as in society – the type of society we want our children, older people, people with disabilities, women, men, parents and families to live in and to be supported to live in. This is not about money – not more money, it’s the way the money is spent.

It is about jobs and keeping certain people happy, however more often than not it’s not the people with disabilities satisfaction that is at the heart of the policy making. And that is a scandal and should be referred to as a scandal.

Instead too many people take decisions on what is best for people with disabilities, people who have no right to do so and do so behind closed doors.

People with disabilities may be cared for by people they may not want to live with.  The legislation on mental capacity in Ireland goes back to the 19th century – this is unbelievable but not in Ireland.  Many people with disabilities have money in bank accounts that they don’t know they have or cannot access and are not allowed spend.

There are still large institutions in Ireland where people who do not want to share space with each other are forced to do so.  Hidden from society, where the staff and services are automatically perceived to be wonderful and the questions are not asked. Communities still protest when a small group home is opened down the road. This is 2011, years after European and other ‘Years of the Disabled’, Special Olympics, My Left Foot, Inside I’m Dancing, Leas Cross.

And very little has changed except the lucky get to go to college, the luckier get jobs, the number of private nursing homes has increased substantially many now becoming new institutions for people with disabilities and receiving tax incentives and closing doors on people’s lives all over again.   Some groups win awards but nobody enforces standards and campaigns are stultified before they begin because people are tired and nobody knows enough to care.

Families see little hope, and supports cut and no respect for them or their family members.  And disability is wiped from the national agenda while we worry about the economy and not the society that is withering away inside it.

Inclusion Ireland are chronicling the experience of people with disabilities and their families in this election  – Disability Rights are my Priority – are they yours? tell them about your canvass experiences and find out more about what political parties are saying on disability if they ever say anything.


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