Creating Sustainable Cities and Towns needs to embed principles of accessibility and inclusion
Welcome efforts to reduce climate impact are creating unreasonable difficulties on the free movement of disabled pedestrians and disabled motorists and passengers.
Open letter from Independent Living Movement Ireland to:
- Minister Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for the Environment, Climate, Communications and Transport
- Minister Darragh O’Brien, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage
- Minister Peter Burke TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Planning and Local Government
- Graham Doyle, Secretary General, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage
- Maria Graham, Assistant Secretary, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage
- Fiona Quinn, Assistant Secretary, Housing, Local Government and Heritage
- Anne Graham, CEO NTA
- Sinead Gibney, Chief Commissioner IHREC
- Paul Dunne, CEO LGMA
I am contacting you on behalf of Independent Living Movement Ireland (ILMI). We are a campaigning, national representative Disabled Persons Organisation (DPO) that promotes the philosophy of independent living and works to build an inclusive society.
Central to the way we work is to ensure that policy decisions that impact on the lives of disabled people have to be directly influenced by those whose lives are directly affected.
Our philosophy can be summed up as: ‘Nothing about us without us!’ and ‘Rights Not Charity’. Our vision is an Ireland where disabled persons have freedom, choice and control over all aspects of their lives and can fully participate in an inclusive society as equals.
I am writing this open letter as chair of ILMI to raise concerns about how the Government’s lead in progressing climate change in terms of trying to reduce reliance on cars in towns and cities is having unintended negative consequences on the lives of disabled people. ILMI as a human-rights organisation recognises the urgent need to decarbonise our society to try and mitigate the effects of climate change but are calling for leadership to ensure that changes to our towns and cities do not undermine our commitments to the inclusion of disabled people in Ireland under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Proposed changes in the area of environmental plans often have a disproportionate impact on disabled people as pedestrians and users of the car. Hard-fought gains by disabled people over decades in terms of the safety of our pedestrian areas and parking spaces were steadily eroded over the last two years. Temporary changes to our public areas made during the phases of managing Covid-19 are now translating into sometimes unwelcome permanency. We as disabled people are being denied access to our towns and cities by pavements restricted to our ease of movement due to new allowances permitted for unregulated external dining.
Our disabled parking spaces are being removed to locations with no reference to where and why the original location was a place of most assistance to facilitate disabled people to access the centres of towns and cities. The promotion of “floating” bus stops which impede disabled people and people with limited mobility in safely accessing public transport and the promotion of dangerous “shared spaces” are directly impacting our ability as disabled people to participate with our accustomed ease of freedom in society. These are but a sample of a massive problem of restricting the mobility of tens of thousands of disabled people and people of older years.
ILMI recognises the need to promote active mobility and reduce our national carbon footprint. What alarms us, however, is that the many measures which were initially trialled as experimental, are now implemented with little or no recognition of earlier objections to their design, and with no new consultation with disabled people through representative Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs) as per the States commitments under Article 4.3 of the UNCRPD.
This has led to a mix of local initiatives without meaningful consultation with disabled people, resulting in a lack of uniformity and hybrid measures which undermine disabled people’s right to access and inclusion. Article 9 of the UNCRPD specifically places obligations on States to take appropriate measures to ensure disabled people “access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility”.
We in ILMI feel that there is a need for a national blueprint of standards to ensure that proposed changes to improve the environments of our cities and towns reflect our commitments to “develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public”. ILMI feels that Government departments, with the oversight of our National Human Rights Institute (the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission), should undertake a review of the Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets to reflect expectations and commitments under the UNCRPD.
ILMI is calling on IHREC as our National Human Rights Institute, to inform and guide Government Departments and Local Authorities of their legal obligations not only under the UNCRPD but Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights Equality Commission Act (2014) of their Public Duty to ensure inclusion of all people in the provision of services, including how public spaces are planned, designed, safe and maintained.
We in ILMI recognise that change is necessary to reduce our carbon emissions, but feel that this can and should be done with our existing commitments under the UNCRPD to ensure that disabled people are not further marginalised and excluded from society through a failure to recognise that disabled people must have accommodation made to provide for transport and mobility needs. We have fought long and hard to have systemic barriers removed that denied us our right to access and inclusion and these hard-fought rights cannot be undone through the lack of Strategic thinking that fails to embed inclusion in the development of sustainable towns and cities going forward.
Des Kenny, Chairperson, Independent Living Movement Ireland