Voices of disabled Kilkenny people must be heard at highest levels

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Junior ministerial appointments should not relegate disability from cabinet discussions -ILMI

Independent Living Movement Ireland (ILMI) welcomes the appointments of three junior ministers with responsibilities for the inclusion of disabled people in Irish society.

However, it cautions that the junior ministerial positions should not distract from the role of the Department of Children, Disability, Equality and Integration in ensuring the inclusion of disabled people as a priority at cabinet meetings.

Welcoming the appointments of Minister of State for Disabilities in the Department of Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Anne Rabbitte (Galway East); Minister of State for Older People and Mental Health Mary Butler (Waterford); and Minister of State in the Department of Education Josepha Madigan (Dublin Rathdown), ILMI chair Des Kenny says: “Real inclusion of disabled people in Irish society is not limited to the remit of one Government department. It requires policies to be implemented across all Government departments. Having three new junior ministerial portfolios is welcome, as long as this does not mean that disabled people’s voices and concerns are solely to be dealt with outside of cabinet meetings. We welcome the opportunity to work with the new junior ministers, but will still expect to work with all ministers regardless of their brief.

“If we are serious about the inclusion of disabled people, we need to think about the language we use. We need to recognise the impact of language to reinforce outdated models that look at disabled people through a medical model, which leave us as human beings as an afterthought in discussions about our own lives."

ILMI calls for the removal of references to "special education" or "special education needs". Mr. Kenny says: "This term is very much based on a paternalistic medical /charity view of disabled people and is not based on the social model or principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The needs of disabled people, whether in education or otherwise, are not special."

ILMI call for the adoption of the term "inclusive education". Mr. Kenny also calls for a conversation about the use of the term "mental health" in Ireland. "People who experience anxiety, depression and emotional trauma are not sick and do not suffer from an illness. Taking a social model of disability, we need to recognise that using terms like 'mental health' medicalises and individualises people’s emotional responses to societal pressures. Emotional trauma and distress is not an individual medical issue but a social issue and it cannot be treated as a medical condition," he adds. 

Mr Kenny says the new junior ministers must affirm the vital role of disabled people’s voices through Disabled Person’s Organisations (DPO) in order to hear these issues. He says this would ensure that their functions can really promote inclusion and not have a situation where language used unintentionally excludes disabled people from society.