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The Disability Act

The Disability Act, 2005, which became law on 8 July, 2005, imposes significant obligations on Government Departments and on Public Bodies to work proactively towards the improvement of the quality of life of people with disabilities. It also gave the Ombudsman new powers to investigate complaints about compliance by public bodies and others with Part 3 of the Act. You can make a complaint to the Ombudsman regarding a public bodies failure to comply with the Disability Act. Specifically the Ombudsman may investigate complaints relating to determinations by inquiry officers and decisions of complaints officers in relation to sectoral plans. We have published an information leaflet in relation to the Ombudsman's role under the Disability Act 2005.

Part 3 of the Disability Act, 2005 deals with the following :-

Access to Public Buildings (Section 25)

Access to Services (Section 26)

Accessibility of Services Supplied to a Public Body (Section 27)

Access to Information (Section 28)

Access to Heritage Sites (Section 29)

Sectoral Plans (Section 31)

Access to Public Buildings (Section 25)

A "public building" means a building, or part of a building, to which members of the public generally have access and which is occupied, managed or controlled by a public body.

This section of the Act requires public bodies to ensure that their public buildings are, "as far as practicable", accessible to persons with disabilities. The Act allows the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to request the National Disability Authority to prepare and submit to him a draft code of practice relating to accessibility of public buildings to persons with disabilities. If the Minister approves such a code of practice, then public bodies "... shall comply with it to such an extent as is practical having regard to its resources and obligations ...". In particular, public bodies must comply with the code of practice at the time of construction, material alteration or extension of a public building or where it would be cost effective for the purpose of giving access to a greater number of people. .

Buildings which are public buildings on the date when section 25 of the Disability Act came into force (i.e. 31 December, 2005) or which become public buildings after that date, must be brought into compliance with Part M of the Building Regulations 1997 (as amended) by 31 December 2015. In addition, if there are any future amendments to Part M of the Building Regulations 1997, public bodies will be required to bring their public buildings into compliance with the amended Part M within 10 years after the commencement of the amendment.

A Minister may make an order specifying a building, or buildings, to which the requirements in the preceding paragraph will not apply if he or she is satisfied that -

  1. the building is being used temporarily as a public building and will cease to be used as such after 3 years from the date of making the order
  2. the building will not be used as a public building after three years from the date of making the order, or
  3. making the building accessible to persons with disabilities would not be justified, on the grounds of cost, having regard to the use to which the building is put.

Before making such an order the Minister concerned will be required to consult with "such other Ministers or such other persons as he or she considers appropriate".

Access to Services (Section 26)

A "service" means a service or facility of any kind provided by a public body which is available to or accessible by the public generally or a section of the public and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, includes-

  1. the use of any place or amenity owned, managed or controlled by a public body
  2. the provision of information or an information resource or a scheme or an allowance or other benefit administered by a public body
  3. any cultural or heritage services provided by such a body, and
  4. any service provided by a court or other tribunal

This section of the Act requires that, with effect from 31 December, 2005, where a public body provides a service it shall--

(a) "where practical and appropriate", ensure that the provision of access to the service by persons with disabilities is integrated,

(b) "where practical and appropriate", provide assistance, if requested, to persons with disabilities in assessing the services if it is satisfied that this is necessary to comply with (a) above, and

(c) "where appropriate", ensure the availability of persons with appropriate expertise and skills to give advice to the body about how to ensure that its services are accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Act also requires public bodies to authorise at least one of its staff members to provide or arrange for and co-ordinate the provision of assistance and guidance to persons with disabilities in accessing its services. The people so authorised will be known as Access Officers. (As a public body the Office of the Ombudsman is also required to appoint an Access Officer. Here is a link to our Access Officer's details.)

Accessibility of Services Supplied to a Public Body (Section 27)

In this section of the Act, "provision of services" also means the supply of goods.

This section of the Act requires that, with effect from 31 December, 2005, where a service is provided to a public body, it shall ensure that the service is accessible to persons with disabilities (services provided to a public body might include, for example, a scheme which is administered, under a contract, on behalf of a public body by another agency or a private company).

The Act states that the foregoing shall not apply if the provision of access by persons with disabilities to any services provided to a public body--

  1. would not be practicable
  2. would not be justified having regard to the cost of doing so, or
  3. would cause unreasonable delay in making the goods or services available to other persons

Access to Information (Section 28)

This section requires public bodies to, "as far as practicable", have in place arrangements for the communication of information in Braille, sign, oral etc. formats in the event that an aurally or visually impaired person so requests. This section also requires public bodies who, for example, communicate by e-mail or publish information on the web, to ensure that, "as far as practicable", such information is transmitted or published in a format that is compatible with adaptive technologies used by visually impaired people. It also requires public bodies to ensure that, "as far as practicable", information it publishes, which contains information relevant to persons with intellectual disabilities, is in clear language that is clearly understood by those persons.

Access to Heritage Sites (Section 29)

In this section of the Act, a "heritage site" includes--

  1. a monument within the meaning of the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2004,
  2. a heritage building or heritage garden or park within the meaning of the Heritage Act 1995,
  3. a protected structure or a proposed protected structure, with any attendant grounds, or an architectural conservation area, within the meaning in each case of the Planning and Development Act 2000,
  4. a nature reserve which is the subject of an establishment order within the meaning of the Wildlife Acts 1976 and 2000, and
  5. a national park owned by the State and under the management and control of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

This section requires that, with effect from 31 December 2007, a public bodies shall, "as far as practicable", ensure that the whole or a part of a heritage site in its ownership, management or control to which the public has access, is accessible to persons with disabilities.

The Act also states that the foregoing shall not apply if its application would-

  • have a significant adverse effect on the conservation status of a species or habitat or the integrity of a heritage site, or
  • compromise the characteristics of the site.

 

The Act further states that nothing contained in Section 29 shall be construed as authorising or requiring the adaptation or modification of any heritage site contrary to law.

Sectoral Plans (Section 31)

The Disability Act, 2005 requires the six Government Ministers listed below to prepare and publish sectoral plans outlining the programme of measures proposed to be taken in relation to the provision of services to persons with disabilities by the Minister or by public bodies or other persons in relation to which the Minister performs a function or allocates moneys.

  • Sectoral Plan of the Minister for Health and Children (Section 32)
  • Sectoral Plan of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs (Section 33)
  • Sectoral Plan of the Minister for Transport (Section 34)
  • Sectoral Plan of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (Section 35)
  • Sectoral Plan of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Section 36)
  • Sectoral Plan of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Section 37)

 

Here is a link to these sectoral plans