Disability Access Policy
The Social Model of Disability has developed significantly over the past 30 years and specifically states that it is the way in which society is organised that causes much of the obstacles that face people with disabilities today. Obstacles such as the in-accessibility of the built environment, the transport system, and many services being provided to the public.
The National Disability Strategy and the Disability Act 2005 have been established in an attempt to enable people with disabilities to participate fully in economic, social and cultural life of the community. They clearly confirm the Government’s commitment towards the promotion and encouragement of equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
The Disability Act 2005 puts significant responsibilities on all public sector organisations to ensure that all the services being provided to the public are accessible to all, including people with disabilities.
Cork County Council is committed to ensuring that existing and newly developed services or built facilities provided by the organisation are accessible to persons with disabilities, where it is practical and where funding permits.
This policy statement sets out the principles that will guide our work with regards to disability access and clearly outlines the principle areas of responsibility under current Disability Legislation.
The Disability Act 2005 defines disability as:-
"Disability, in relation to a person, means a substantial restriction in the capacity of the person to carry on a profession, business or occupation in the State or to participate in social or cultural life in the State by reason of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual impairment".
Under this definition we can see that disability effects people with a physical disability, some that may use a wheelchair; people with vision and hearing impairments who may or may not need assistance and support, people with long term conditions like epilepsy or diabetes; people with intellectual disabilities and mental health illness and also people with a much wider range of conditions such as facial disfigurement, dyslexia, learning difficulties, heart disease, depression and others.
Cork County Council has established a Disability Strategy Steering Group which is proactively involved in the development of an overall strategy to ensure accessibility of all its services and property.
Cork County Council will ensure, where practical and where funding permits, that all reasonable accommodations are made to meet the needs of people with disabilities, so as to maximise access to the wide range of services provided by the council. It seeks to ensure that its services and buildings are accessible to everyone, strives to provide easy, dignified access to all public buildings and public areas under its remit (including outdoor spaces such as playgrounds, parks and beaches) and seeks to ensure that any private buildings or premises used by the Council are accessible to all members of the public.
This policy covers physical access to buildings, circulation and movement around the buildings, accessible customer services, personnel procedures, provision of accessible information to the public and the accessibility of our website and I.T. equipment provided for public use by the council.
Management has overseen the development and promotion of the organisations commitment to improved accessibility and the principles of accessibility can be found linked to the various customer policy documents such as the Customer Charter and the HR Operational Plan
The Customer Charter was established a number of years ago by Cork County Council, developed in consultation with members of the public including people with disabilities. This charter outlines when, where and how the organisation can be contacted and indicates different contact methods available to the public, i.e. phone, letter, email, web, in person. This charter takes into account the different needs and abilities of all members of the public. Customer surveys will be carried out in line with the Customer Charter to identify any areas for improvement as indicated in the survey.
A specific complaints procedure has been incorporated into the Customer Charter and is available to the public. People with disabilities can also avail of this complaints procedure in relation to disability complaints and queries.
Cork County Council has established a strong link with a Disability Consultative Group consisting of people from Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, a Wheelchair user, Cope Foundation and Cork Deaf Association. This local group and also national disability groups have extensive experience which we can draw on to achieve accessibility of our services.
Cork County Council has a number of equality related policies in place at present, which strive to ensure that no discrimination towards people with disabilities occurs within the council. The Equality & Diversity Management Programme, in particular, ensures that the differences that exist between people are taken into account and that these differences are recognised as a source of strength to the organisation. The Equality & Diversity Management Policy seeks to recognise individual contribution and performance, develop each individual's capability and give everyone an equal opportunity to use his/her talent and realise his/her full potential.
A Full-time Equality & Disability Liaison Officer is employed by the council to deal with a wide range of Equality & Disability Issues and an Equality & Diversity Action Team is currently in place which is responsible for the review and implementation of the Equality Action Plan, which encompasses a wide range of disability issues.
A number of measures are in place to support access of persons with disabilities to the services being provided by the council. All public counter staff have received disability equality training. They are experienced and comfortable interacting with people with disabilities. Sign Language interpreters and information in alternative formats are available to members of the public on request. Some members of staff have also been trained in Sign Language and a programme of sign language classes for interested staff members is currently being organised by the Training & Development Officer.
The Personnel Department of Cork County Council has been very pro-active in ensuring the inclusion of people with disabilities on the work force over the past number of years and disability issues have always been featured in the Personnel Department's Operational Plan.
Employment of People with Disabilities
Equality Legislation requires all public sector organisations to reach a target of 3% employment of people with disabilities.
This target is a positive action measure designed to secure employment and career opportunities for a group who face a higher than average risk of exclusion from mainstream Irish Society. The 2002 Census showed that only 25% of people with disability of working age had a job, compared with 70% of non-disabled people.
Cork County Council will ensure that all reasonable accommodations are made to meet the requirements to which some disabilities give rise, so as to maximise access to employment in the local authority for people with disabilities and to enable staff to make the fullest possible contribution to the work of the local authority.
Of the staff members included in the 3% target a number of employees have received accommodation alterations such as work arrangement alterations and assistive technology. All new employees are asked at recruitment stage for details of any special requirements or accommodations needed by them and it is council policy to provide these assistive tools where-ever necessary.
Cork County Council has recently seen a move away from the Special Competition system of employing people with disabilities. The personnel department are actively involved with disability organisations in the identification of certain posts, where it is the abilities of the applicant that are taken into account and not the disability.
Disability Equality Training
A Disability Equality Training Programme has recently been established for all staff of Cork County Council. This training is being done in compliance with the National Disability Authority's guidelines on disability equality training. It should be noted that it is hoped to have % of interview board members, in particular chairpersons trained as part of this training programme also, whereby they will focus on the abilities of the candidate to do the job rather than their disability.
Senior Management Team, some public counter staff and interview board members have already completed this training course. The programme, which has been established, will see all staff trained in the area of Disability & Equality by May 2008.
It is also proposed to put in place a similar Disability Equality Training programme for County Council Members, Strategic Policy Committee Members and contractors who have contact with the public.
Cork County Council's procurement policy seeks to ensure that relevant accessibility requirements for people with disabilities are included in all stages of the tender process. Accessibility requirements will be clearly stated in requests for tenders/contracts/quotations where applicable.
Accessibility requirements will be given appropriate consideration and weighting during scoring and evaluation stages. Cork County Council strives to ensure that organisations adhere to relevant accessibility standards and guidelines as appropriate to the individual tender.
Built Environment/External environment
Cork County Council is committed to ensuring that all areas of the built environment and the external environment within its remit are fully accessible to people with disabilities, where practical and where funding permits. This also includes any new buildings that may be acquired or built on behalf of the council in the future and any new developments in the external environment which are to be the responsibility of the council.
An access audit was carried out a number of years ago of all public buildings owned and operated by the council. A full access audit of the external environment will be carried out subject to the appropriate funding being put in place and an implementation plan will be drawn up following this.
Cork County Council currently maintains its own Built Environment Access Handbook for its Headquarters at the County hall, which deals with issues such as:
- access to and from public buildings
- accessible signage
- movement within public buildings
- means of escape in emergencies
Plans are in place to extend this initiative to all sites.
Cork County Council has recently established its own good practice guidelines for disabled parking spaces which have received the approval of the National Disability Authority. These guidelines will be used throughout the county to ensure that all disabled parking spaces provided are adequate for the members of public for which they are designed.
Within this policy document Cork County Council is committed to the accessibility of all areas of the built environment / external environment. This includes issues like internal and external signage, internal and external lighting, access to and from all buildings, accessible street furniture, movement throughout public buildings including accessible steps, ramps, stairways and lifts, loop systems and other technical assistance equipment for people with disabilities. Also covered in this section is the provision of accessible furniture and facilities, in particular accessible sanitary services.
The objective of Cork County Council is to go beyond minimum compliance with legal regulations (e.g. Part M Building Regulations) to achieve a high standard of accessibility for people with disabilities, where it is practical and cost-effective to do so.
Management of Cork County Council will consider access and safety in emergency situations and will implement sufficient plans to cover all users of the buildings, including people with disabilities. Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans will be completed for all employees with disabilities to ensure their safe evacuation from the building in the case of emergency. This includes emergency procedures, emergency equipment, visual and auditory alarms, safety zones and signage.
Cork County Council is committed to ensuring, where practicable and where funding permits, that all information available to the public is available in an accessible format, for example accessible HTML, Large Print, Easy-to-Read format, Braille, Audio file and other formats, if requested. It is not feasible for all public documents to be readily available in all formats and Cork County Council is in the process of carrying out an information/document audit to identify, in order of priority, which documents should be readily available in certain accessible formats and which documents should be available on request. An Accessible Information Policy and Procedure has been established which will be under regular review to strive to further meet the information needs of the public.
Public Access Information Terminals
Cork County Council is committed to ensuring that all public computers, kiosks and other public access terminals in place are compliant with the NDA ICT Accessibility Guidelines. All proposals for the installation of public access systems will be completed in liaison with the National Disability Authority to ensure that all areas of accessibility are complied with. Where such facilities cannot be provided because of space, cost restrictions, etc, assistance will be made available on request to access the information/service required.
Cork County Council is committed to ensuring that all the organisations HTML-based information and services including public websites, HTML-based email and newsletters are accessible to people with disabilities.
A website audit has been carried out which identified a number of key areas to be looked at to ensure full accessibility of our website. Staff responsible for putting information up on our website have received extensive training on what is accessible information and a system has been put in place whereby the accessibility of the website is in constant review.
The Cork County Council website contains an accessibility statement which details what accessibility works have been carried out to date.
Equal Status Statement
Management and staff of Cork County Council have a legal obligation under the Equal Status Act 2000 and 2004 and the Employment Equality Act 1998 and 2004 which prohibit discrimination on nine distinct grounds – Gender, Marital Status, Family Status, Sexual Orientation, Religion, Age, Disability, Race and Membership of a Traveller Community. Everyone who comes in contact with this organisation as employee, customer, client, member of the public, elected member, consultant, etc can expect to be treated with dignity and respect. Whether it be in the provision of services, employment or information everyone will be treated equally and respected for their individuality and diversity. Any person who feels they are being discriminated against under any of these grounds should contact Rose Carroll, Information Officer at the contact details below.
It is the intention of Cork County Council to review this policy document, in consultation with members of the Disability Strategy Group and members of various disability organisations, within 12 months of its official launch. Any issues arising out of this review will be taken on board and this document will be amended accordingly.
Cork County Council is committed to regularly evaluating improvements to accessibility of its services and to act upon the results of these evaluations. It is not possible to anticipate every difficulty which a disabled person might have in accessing our services and we will take on board the views of customers and staff with disabilities as they can help identify difficulties in accessing our services and suggest solutions for the provision of reasonable adjustments, where necessary and where funding permits.
Finally I would ask both the public and council employees to embrace this policy document and the commitment being made by the council in ensuring full accessibility for people with disabilities as society and people's needs and abilities change. Any queries can be referred to either of the persons listed below.
The Disability Act required that a number of key public contact persons be made available within the council for assistance for people with disabilities and people with disability queries.
Contact Details are as Follows:
Equality & Disability Liaison Officer
Corporate, Community & Economic Development Directorate.