Publication - Disability Sectoral Plan July 2006 - 7. Compliance with Sections 25 to 28 Disability Act


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7. Compliance with Sections 25 to 28 Disability Act

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7.1. Introduction

The Disability Act 2005 contains a number of specific provisions relating to the accessibility of services for persons with disabilities. Underpinning and supplementary to these legislative provisions is a Code of Practice on Accessibility of Services prescribed in S.I. 163 of 2006. The Code relates, directly, to the matters outlined in sections 26, 27 and 28 of the Disability Act, 2005 and certain measures which can be implemented to ensure and enhance compliance. The particular provisions contained within the provisions of the Disability Act include:

  • That all public buildings used by the Department and agencies under its aegis are in compliance with appropriate standards of access not later 2015. ( Section 25)
  • Public bodies are required, where practicable and appropriate, to ensure that their services are accessible for people with disabilities by providing integrated access. That means ensuring, as far as practicable, that people with disabilities can access public services along with other citizens. (Section 26)
  • Public bodies are required to ensure that the goods or services that they purchase are accessible, unless it would not be practicable or justifiable on cost grounds or would result in an unreasonable delay. ( Section 27)
  • Communications by a public body to a person with a hearing or visual impairment must, as far as practicable, be provided in an accessible format, following a request. Information provided electronically must, as far as practicable, be compatible with adaptive technology. Published information, relevant to persons with intellectual disabilities, must be made available in easy to read formats. ( Section 28)

In addressing the particular compliance requirements of the Act, the Department has undertaken a series of direct actions to firstly ensure compliance but additionally and where possible ensure that accessibility to its services is enhanced over and above the measures suggested in the Code of Practice on Accessibility. The following measures were undertaken:

  1. An analysis of the extent to which buildings, used by the Department's customers and staff are fully accessible, has been completed. Again where such deficits exist, these will be addressed in a Programme of works to be undertaken in conjunction with the OPW.
  2. A position audit of the Department's existing customer service delivery has been conducted. The audit has identified gaps in service delivery and allows for these to be comprehensively addressed in the context of the Sectoral Plan's implementation.
  3. A review of the procurement procedures has been conducted to ensure goods and services procured are accessible to persons with disabilities.
  4. A review of the existing information services and formats has been completed, to assess whether they are adequately accessible to all persons with disabilities and in the appropriate medium.
7.2. Accessibility to Departmental Offices (Section 25)

The Department is committed in its Customer Action Plan to provide clean, accessible public offices which ensure privacy, comply with occupational and safety standards and facilitate access for people with disabilities.

The Department has 143 buildings throughout the country. Of these, 129 are open to the public. At the moment, the number of offices which are fully accessible for people with disabilities is 103.

The process of upgrading the Department's office network will continue with a particular emphasis on providing privacy facilities and access for people with disabilities. This is being systematically undertaken, with all the necessary technical and financial resources, as part of its Building and Refurbishment programme. In addition, the Department is taking opportunities to provide alternative locations where refurbishment is neither practical nor appropriate

All office upgrades or refurbishment are undertaken in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, who ensure that compliance with standards regarding access and disability is adhered as required under the provisions of the Disability Act. The Department is committed to an accelerated programme of accessibility for staff and members of the public with disabilities well in advance of the statutory deadline of 2015.

In addition, to its office network the Department has 68 Branch Offices which are operated by Branch Managers who are employed on a contract basis. Under the terms of the contract they are required to provide suitable accommodation.

As part of the Sectoral Plan process the Department met with representatives of the Branch Managers to emphasise the requirements and provisions of the Act. Additionally, the Department has existing agreement with the Branch Managers in relation to their role and their remuneration. Included in this agreement is the requirement that specific criteria be met in terms of the standard of accommodation provided by the Branch Manager. In this regard, they are required to make the premises fully accessible to people with disabilities, within a reasonable period.

The Department is working towards the objective of having all offices accessible to people with disabilities. In this connection, a refurbishment programme is ongoing in local offices. Access issues are addressed as part of these projects.

The Department has also recently undertaken a review of medical certification, reporting, and assessment in respect of illness, disability and caring income support schemes. The objective is to ensure that the appropriate arrangements are put in place having regard to changes that have occurred since the current system was established. The review has assessed and evaluated all aspects of the Medical Assessment system in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, economy and customer service with reference to current national, EU and international best practice.

Around 60 locations are used by DSFA for the conduct of medical examinations by Medical Assessors, and these include Departmental premises, Government offices and other facilities. Arising from the review, a full and detailed analysis of requirements for Medical Review Assessment Service centres/work locations is to be carried out, with a view to maximising efficiency and ensuring that the customer experience is optimised.

Regarding the offices for Investigative Staff, the Department is moving these offices to ground floor accommodation as opportunities present themselves. In the interim, special arrangements are made to visit people with disabilities where they have problems accessing offices. Table 7.2.1 sets out the current position in relation to accessibility of the Department's offices.

Table 7.2.1.

Type of Office

Total No.

No. Inaccessible.

Status:

Social Welfare Local Office

58

5

4 new offices planned

Social Welfare Investigative Staff

63

19

3 new offices planned

Signing Centre

3

Nil

Headquarter Offices

15

2

Regional Offices

3

Nil

Appeals Cork

1

Nil

Total

143

26

In addition to ongoing programme of upgrading accommodation, the Office of Public Works administers a Disabled Access Programme. Under this programme DSFA has as part of the sectoral plan process secured a firm commitment from OPW to conduct a programme of 'access audits' on buildings occupied by the Dept. This programme will be based on a priority list determined by DSFA. OPW have also given an undertaking to carry out necessary alterations/modifications based on the results of these audits, to bring buildings up to the required standard. Established best practice will be taken as the determining standard and will equate to a standard equivalent to that envisaged in the British standard 2003.

In conclusion, the ultimate objective of the Department is to ensure that all its offices used both by customers and by staff with disabilities are fully accessible well in advance of the deadline contained in the Disability Act. As far as possible this process is being accelerated for the duration of the published plan (i.e. 2006/2009). The precise actions, schedule of audits and performance indicators are contained in table 7.2.2 .

Table 7.2.2

Objective

Actions

Performance Indicator
Outcome Measurement

Ensure that goods or services that are supplied to the Department are accessible to people with disabilities

Complete review of procurement DSFA procedures and guidelines.
All Requests for tenders to reflect section 27 provisions.

Review completed by July 2006
Number of RFT's issued 2006/2009

Ditto

Review accessibility of payments facilities to reflect section 27 provisions

Revision of contractual arrangements completed during 2007/2009

Audit reports to be examined to decide priority of works to be completed

Number of priority works completed 2006/2009

Ensure that ICT goods or services that are supplied to the Department are accessible to staff with disabilities

Establish a formal relationship with the National Disability Authority to ensure that software procured or developed in-house is accessible or at least compatible with Adaptive Technology

Relationship established by end 2006

Provide hardware and software from a ring-fenced budget according to needs to staff with disabilities as required.

Budget allocated and amount expenditure on assistive technology for staff with disabilities. Completed each year during 2006/2009

Develop internal software in line with agreed guidelines including internal user testing as appropriate

Compliance with agreed guidelines

Research new technologies to benefit staff/customers with disabilities

Number of new technologies researched or adopted

Procure hardware and software in line with recommended guidelines from the NDA

Number of ICT procurements made that are compliant with guidelines

7.3 Accessibility of Services (Section 26)

The philosophy of providing for people with disabilities in the mainstream services of a Department is set out in section 26 of the Disability Act 2005 and is established government policy. To make this policy effective, the Department is committed to building its capacity to address disability both at a policy level and in terms of the delivery of services.

At the strategic level, this Sectoral Plan incorporates disability into the overall departmental strategy and policies not only in terms of social welfare payments and Comhairle but across the whole range of the Department's work. This includes the objective of facilitating and improving access to education, training and labour market programmes for people with disabilities and strategic service development. These issues are articulated in further detail in Sections 4 Strategic Service Development and 5 Activation & Employment of the plan.

In the context of its existing service delivery functions a comprehensive position audit of the Department's existing customer service delivery was completed (see appendix 1). This audit identified deficits within existing service delivery system. The configuration of audit was informed by the Code of Practice on Accessibility and as well as looking at organisations who have track records of best practice in disability service provision.

Resulting from this audit a series of actions will be undertaken to address any gaps in service delivery for people with disabilities.

7.4. Accessibility of Goods or Services Supplied (Section 27)

The Department and agencies under its aegis are committed to ensuring that the goods or services that they purchase are accessible to people with disabilities. In this regard and coinciding with the preparation of its Sectoral Plan the Department has completed a comprehensive review of its Procurement Governance and procedures.

This review has presented the Department with an opportunity to reflect on the provisions of section 27 of the Disability Act in its future procurement activity. In general, the services procured by the Department of Social & Family Affairs are not directly related to the Department's provision and delivery of its service. However, where this is the case, the revised procurement process will ensure that such services are compatible with the needs of persons with disabilities.

In making arrangements, including contracts or other service level agreements, for the delivery of income support payments and other services, the Department will have full regard to the requirements of section 27 that such services are accessible to people with disabilities.

The procurement of Information and Communications Technology represents a significant element of goods and services procured by the Department. The importance of accessibility to such technologies both for staff with disabilities and customers with disabilities is fully recognised and has been considered in the context of ICT procurement.

The particular activities which the Department is committed to undertaking for the duration of this Sectoral Plan are detailed in table 7.4 below.

Table 7.4

Objectives

Actions

Performance Indicator
Outcome Measurement

Ensure that goods or services that are supplied to the Department are accessible to people with disabilities

Complete review of procurement DSFA procedures and guidelines.
All Requests for tenders to reflect section 27 provisions.

Review completed by July 2006
Number of RFT's issued 2006/2009

Ditto

Review accessibility of payment facilities to reflect section 27 provisions

Revision of contractual arrangements completed during 2007/2009

Audit reports to be examined to decide priority of works to be completed

Number of priority works completed 2006/2009

Ensure that ICT goods or services that are supplied to the Department are accessible to staff with disabilities

Establish a formal relationship with the National Disability Authority to ensure that software procured or developed in-house is accessible or at least compatible with Adaptive Technology

Relationship established by end 2006

Provide hardware and software from a ring-fenced budget according to needs of staff with disabilities as required.

Budget allocated and amount of expenditure on assistive technology for staff with disabilities. Completed each year during 2006/2009

Develop internal software in line with agreed guidelines including internal user testing as appropriate

Compliance with agreed guidelines

Research new technologies to benefit staff/customers with disabilities

Number of new technologies researched or adopted

Procure hardware and software in line with recommended guidelines from the NDA

Number of ICT procurements made that are compliant with guidelines

7.5. Accessibility of Information Services (Section 28)

The Disability Act refers to Accessibility of information by public bodies that provide information to the general public, including access to information for persons with hearing impairment and/or with visual impairment. Under section 28 there is a requirement to ensure that all electronic communications are accessible to persons availing of adaptive technology. A further requirement is that all information published which is directly relevant to persons with an intellectual disability is made available in clear language which can be understood by the person.

The underlying objective of the Department's information policy is to ensure that all citizens are made aware of their entitlements and that they are kept informed of changes and improvements in schemes and services as they occur. The provision of information in a clear and accessible manner is an essential element in the effective delivery of social welfare services. The needs of people with disabilities are an important priority in enhancing access to information. The Department has articulated its commitment to providing accurate, timely and comprehensive information in its Information Strategy, Customer Action Plan and Customer Charter.

The Department produces a comprehensive range of information leaflets and booklets covering each social welfare payment or scheme. These information leaflets are available in a wide range of outlets across the country, including all Social Welfare Local Offices, Citizen Information Centres, Post Offices etc. Information is also available on the Department's website, www.welfare.ie and on the Oasis website, www.oasis.gov.ie

The Department's email address, info@welfare.ie, is accessible for all customers. Those with hearing or visual impairments who have social welfare queries can avail of this service.

Application forms are available from your local Social Welfare Office, Post Office, Citizens Information Centre or use the SMS (Text) Messaging Service. Application forms may also be downloaded from our website at forms.

Information Services operate a phone service, LoCall 1890 66 22 44, where people can get information on all of our services. The telephone is a convenient, quick and confidential means of getting advice.

Information Services for people with disabilities

Information Services

  • Provide written information such as forms and leaflets in a format accessible for people with specific needs, such as Braille, audio tape or large print on request.
  • Organize a sign language facilitator to be present at meetings, presentations etc, if requested.
  • Work in partnership with National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) to implement a 'Plain English' policy to ensure that all forms and leaflets are produced in a simple, clear, easy to read format and that it is accessible to people with different levels of literacy ability. Staff of the division have recently undergone training on 'Plain English' guidelines by a NALA representative.
  • Publish all information on the Department's website ( www.welfare.ie) which has been developed to an XHTML, AAA standard. This enables visually impaired users to use special screen reading software to have the text read out by their computers. The site has been optimised for custom settings i.e. text can be re-sized on screen to suit customers needs. Furthermore, a strategic review of the website is underway. Enhancing compliance with, and maintaining the highest levels of access standards for people with disabilities will form a key part of the review. This review will be carried out by the end of July 2006.
7.5.1. Priority initiatives to support access for people with disabilities

These initiatives include

  • Disability awareness training for all staff of Information Services Division. A deafness awareness course is being held by the National Association of the Deaf in May and members of staff will attend the course.
  • On-going promotion to Information Officers throughout the country about the needs of people with disabilities and the availability of information in alternative formats, i.e. Braille, audio tape, large print and of the availability of sign language facilitators on request.
  • Plans for this year include:
    - briefing for some 130 Information Officers from around the country at the annual Information Officers seminar (May 2006);
    - notification to all scheme areas of the availability of these services; and
    - an article about facilities for people with disabilities in the Social Affairs magazine which is distributed to some 4,300 staff.
  • Liaising with NALA on an ongoing basis to ensure the continued development of the 'Plain English' guidelines.
  • Introducing a texting facility for customers. Work is underway to examine the possibility of introducing this facility. The service will allow our customers to contact the Information Services by text to request information booklets, leaflets, or with a specific social welfare request.
  • Supporting Comhairle in the implementation of its strategic plan to improve access to information for people with disabilities including:
    - the Programme of Support for Community and Voluntary Sector Advocacy
    - the introduction of the proposed Personal Advocacy Service and
    - the development of a scheme relating to the provision of Sign Language Interpretation Services.
  • Progression of the Citizens Information Bill in line with the proposals for Comhairle to introduce the Personal Advocacy Service.
  • Information Services will work with the Health Services Executive and the Mental Health Commission to examine how services can be improved when dealing with customers with mental health problems.
  • Consideration will also be given to ways in which people in receipt of long term disability payments may be targeted to ensure they are aware of and taking up their full entitlements.

Table 7.5.1

Objective

Actions

Performance Indicator
Outcome Measurement

Deliver (and support the delivery of) a quality, comprehensive and up-to-date information service for customers with Disabilities and ensure compliance with section 28 of Disability Act.

Provision of service through appropriate mediums

Citizens Information Bill enacted

Complete by end 2006

Enactment by 2006

Ensure that our information services staff are fully, trained and supported in delivering our information services for disability services

Training plan specifically designed for the needs of Information Officers and provided. Completed by Quarter two, 2006. Number of staff trained.

Implement a''Plain English' policy to ensure that all forms and leaflets are produced in a simple, clear, easy to read format and that it is accessible to people with different levels of literacy ability.

Policy to be implemented in 2006 and refined over 2007/2009. Number of forms revised.

Ensure that customers with disabilities and carers are made aware of their entitlements

Number of publicity initiatives undertaken and completed during period 2006/2009

Undertake a Strategic review of the Department's website carried out including upgrading and promoting usage of the Department's website

Review complete by July 2006. Number of recommendations implemented by 2007.

Continue to liaise with Comhairle, the national information agency under the aegis of the Department, and support the implementation of its Strategic Plan.

•The Programme of Support for Community and Voluntary Sector Advocacy.

•The introduction of the proposed Personal Advocacy Service and

•The development of a scheme relating to the provision of Sign Language Interpretation Services.

Last modified:12/06/2009
 

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