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International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Tomorrow is International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The Assembly held a special event today with its Charity of the Year, The Cedar Foundation, to mark the day. The Cedar Foundation works with people with disabilities to enable them to get the most out of life and be fully included in their communities.

As a public body, the Northern Ireland Assembly is required by law promote equality for people with disabilities but, as the elected legislature for Northern Ireland, it wants to go further by leading by example in promoting positive attitudes and encouraging the participation of disabled people in public life.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (amended in 2006) defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities”.

This is an anti-discrimination law. People with disabilities are discriminated against if they are treat less favourably than someone else because of their disability.

As a result of this law, the Assembly has to:

  • promote positive attitudes towards people with disabilities; and
  • encourage participation by people with disabilities in public life (‘the disability duties’).

It must also state how it plans to do this and reports to the Equality Commission on what it has done.

In the introduction to the Assembly’s Disability Action Plan 2016-21, the Clerk/Chief Executive of the Assembly, Lesley Hogg, states that the plan is “about more than just compliance: it demonstrates our commitment to mainstreaming disability issues and placing them at the core of what we do. The Commission’s corporate strategy includes an aim to ensure that the Assembly and its work is accessible to all”.

One of the Assembly’s priorities is to ensure that Parliament Buildings is welcoming space for everyone: visitors, staff and MLAs. It was built in 1932 and many adjustments have had to be made over the years to make it more accessible, for example, the installation of ramps and modification of lifts. The Assembly has worked with many disability organisations to improve facilities for visitors with disabilities. In 2011, it was the first legislature in the UK to be given an award for its facilities for the hearing impaired. A Braille tour guide is available and visitors can contact staff in advance to request a hearing interpreter. Sign Language training is also provided to staff and there are several trained ‘Autism Champions’.

Here are some of the actions the Assembly commits to in his Disability Action Plan:

  • ensuring that Assembly staff receive training and guidance on disability equality legislation and disability awareness;
  • meeting regularly with disability groups which advise the Assembly;
  • hold a ‘Parliament for People with Disabilites’;
  • design youth engagement programmes in way that promotes the participation of young people with disabilities;
  • provide guidance for visitors to help them participate in Assembly business and events, eg, training to give evidence when committees are considering legislation or holding inquiries;
  • working with special schools and subtitling educational videos; and
  • producing more information about the work of the Assembly which is accessible to those with disabilities.

Another important piece of legislation is The Northern Ireland Act 1998, Section 75 which requires public authorities to promote equality of opportunity between various groups, including those with and without disabilities.

Also, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires the UK Government to promote, protect and ensure the rights of disabled people. Areas covered by the convention include: health, education, employment, access to justice, personal security, independent living and access to information. The Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission are jointly responsible for monitoring its implementation in Northern Ireland.