Wednesday 26th June 2019, The National Council for the Blind (NCBI) launched their pre-budget submission for Budget 2020 as part of a political briefing for Oireachtas members today in Buswells Hotel, Dublin 2. This comprehensive submission focuses on six key Government Departments where urgent action is required to assist the almost 55,000 people living with sight loss in Ireland, a number which is steadily increasing.
Kevin Kelly, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns with NCBI said “While our Pre-Budget Submission recommends changes across many Government departments to improve the lives of people who are blind and vision impaired, of particular importance is the need to expand the Free Travel Scheme and ensure universal access to Assistive Technology.
“Presently, the Free Travel Pass offered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is hugely valued by those who can avail of it. Being able to travel independently on public transport is so important for people who are blind or vision impaired. However, the eligibility criteria to obtain a Free Travel Pass is very restrictive and inflexible. Over 700 of our service users cannot see enough to obtain a driver’s licence yet do not qualify to be registered blind and obtain the Free Travel Pass so they have to incur additional expenses to avail of public transport or taxis. This inequity can be removed in Budget 2020 to include those with a long-term eye condition that renders their level of vision insufficient to obtain a driver’s licence.”
Separately, funding for assistive technology allocated by the HSE is fragmented and uncoordinated. As a result, many people who are blind and vision impaired are unable to afford the upfront costs of essential assistive technology and have to go without meaning they are both economically and socially disadvantaged.
NCBI advocate Aoife Watson said “There needs to be fair and equal access to assistive technology for all people who are blind and vision impaired across the country, regardless of where the person lives. At the moment it is a post code lottery!
“Currently, the HSE does not fund smartphones under the Technical Aids Grant, despite smartphones being often the most accessible for a person with sight loss and the developments in technology such as the Siri intelligent assistance tool, built in screen reader (Voice Over) and screen magnification are indispensable. Ironically if they moved to fund these devices it could result in savings as the assistive technology comes as standard rather than having to be a separate purchase.”
Budget 2020 is the opportunity to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to accessibility and inclusion across all areas of society. It is imperative key investments in schemes, services and supports are made to ensure people who are blind or vision impaired are given the same opportunities as sighted people.