Access To Services For People With Disabilities

AuthorEilionóir Flynn
Cork Online Law R eview 2007 2
Flynn, Access to S ervices for People with
The Potential for Improved Enforcement of Legal Rights through a Personal
Advocacy Service
Eilionóir Flynn
According to the 2002 census, there are 323,707 people with
intellectual or physical disabilities in Ireland, a significant proportion of
whom are resident in institutions. Many of these people have no information
about their legal rights, are denied access to essential services and on a more
pragmatic level, have no control over the minor details in their lives which
most people take for granted, such as what to eat or wear or who will help
them when they need assistance. Until now, the law which attempted to
protect these marginalized groups was based on traditional notions of welfare
and charity, or formal protection from discrimination.
However, as Banks states, the time has now come to enact more
interventionist resource-based measures, “to break down the barriers which
make the law inaccessible for people with disabilities.”1 A step forward in this
direction has been the Government’s Disability Strategy, which includes the
Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, the
Disability Act 2005, and the Citizens Information Act 2007. These legislative
instruments contain provisions to ensure that people with disabilities can
have their needs assessed and associated services provided, thus enabling
them to participate more fully in our society.
This is where the relatively new concept of “advocacy” for people for
disabilities becomes important. Due to the nature of disability, it is difficult
for many people to negotiate the formal legal process required to obtain these
rights. At a very basic level, advocacy has been described in the Goodbody
report2 as “a means of supporting or speaking up for someone, their needs and
rights”. This is echoed in the definition of the functions of a personal advocate
in the Citizens Information Act 2007, in which advocates should aim to ‘assist,
support and represent the person [and] promote the best interest of his or her
health, welfare and well being.’3
At present, advocacy for people with disabilities in Ireland is provided
solely by community and voluntary organisations. In the past, this advocacy
tended to be informal, but with the establishment of the Citizens Information
1 Banks, R. “More t han Law – Advocacy for Dis ability Rights” in Jones, M. & Ba sser
Marks, L.A., Disab ility, Diversability and Legal Chan ge (The Hague; Boston: M. Nijho ff
Publishers, 1999) at p. 343.
2 Goodbody Econo mic Consultants Developing an Ad vocacy Service for People with
Disabilities (Comm issioned by Comhairle: Dublin, 2 004).
3 Section 7D, Citize ns Information Bill 2006.

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