Address by the Tánaiste at the National Disability Authority Excellence through Accessibility Awards
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. I'd like to thank the Chairperson of the NDA, Angela Kerins, for her kind invitation to this, the first Excellence through Accessibility Awards Ceremony.
It was just a year ago that the NDA Excellence through Accessibility Awards Scheme was launched by President McAleese. Today, one productive year later, I'm delighted to be here at the first EtA awards ceremony which publicly recognises the efforts of public service providers who are making a real difference for people with disabilities. By improving accessibility to services and information, the public bodies here today are making it possible for people with disabilities to participate in society more easily and with greater confidence. In other words, these public bodies are actively enabling people with disabilities to live more independently.
Greater accessibility for people with disabilities to public services and information is a very real priority for this Government. The National Disability Strategy, launched by the Government in September 2004, underpins the participation of people with disabilities in Irish society by building on existing policy and legislation. The Strategy has been endorsed in the new proposed social partnership agreement Towards 2016.
I believe we have made significant progress in implementing the National Disability Strategy to date, and, by extension, improving access for people with disabilities to public services and information.
Just two months ago, the Taoiseach and several senior Government Ministers launched the six Departmental sectoral plans under the Disability Act 2005. Service delivery plans were rolled out for the Departments of Health & Children; Social & Family Affairs; Transport; Communications, Marine & Natural Resources; Environment, Heritage & Local Government; and Enterprise, Trade & Employment.
These set out the detailed plans for delivery of specific services for people with disabilities - tangible evidence of the Government's mainstreaming policy. The plans were submitted to the Oireachtas in July. When a resolution has been passed by each House of the Oireachtas, these plans will have effect. We will monitor the implementation of these plans in conjunction with stakeholders and ensure that Departments report on and review their progress.
Another significant step towards greater accessibility is the "Code of Practice on Accessibility of Public Services and Information provided by Public Bodies" that I launched in July this year. This Code of Practice, prepared by the NDA following wide-ranging consultation, applies to all public bodies and, therefore, covers an extremely diverse range of services and facilities made available to the general public. The Code provides guidance to public bodies on meeting their obligations under the Disability Act 2005 in:
- providing more accessible services;
- procuring more accessible goods and services; and
- providing more accessible information through various communication formats.
By way of update, all sections of the Disability Act 2005 have been commenced at this stage, save Parts 2 and 6. Arrangements for implementing Part 2 are set out in the Sectoral Plan of the Minister for Health and Children. Part 6 provides for the establishment of a Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in the NDA and will commence on 1 January 2007. The NDA, in conjunction with my Department, is making good progress in preparing for the setting up of this new Centre.
However, the spotlight today deservedly falls on four public bodies for very positive reasons and I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate the four award recipients:
- the Public Appointments Service;
- Cabra Public Library, Dublin;
- Pearse Street Public Library, Dublin; and
- Cavan County Public Library
These four public bodies have worked extremely hard to attain the EtA award. The EtA award requires applicants to achieve a high standard across a wide range of service features, from customer service, procurement and public facilities to human resource management, management of the built environment and web accessibility. The EtA awards being made here today are a tribute to the commitment of these four award recipients to providing greater access to all their customers, particularly those with disabilities.
I would also like to commend the NDA for all the support it has provided to these four public bodies and other public bodies this year. I believe that recognition of quality services for people with disabilities is a key aspect of the Authority's remit, and this award scheme is a fine example of what can be done to recognise and foster quality.
In closing, I'd like to put on record my support for the EtA award scheme. I am confident that this scheme will result in real improvements for people with disabilities in accessing public services. I recommend participation in the scheme by other public bodies and I have no doubt that next year's award ceremony will witness an even greater number of successful award recipients.