Chapter Eight - Concluding comments and recommendations

8.1 Introduction

The main aim of this consultation was to elicit the views of various stakeholders on independent living, community participation, and quality of life options for people with disabilities in Ireland. The study was designed to 'give a voice' to people with disabilities and those closely associated with their lives. To this end, it may be argued that the study has succeeded in achieving its primary purpose. The substantial amount of information from the different stakeholders, which is presented in his report, should provide the NDA and others with ample evidence to inform their policies and practices. The views expressed in the preceding chapters are from the stakeholders themselves, with little or no commentary or interpretation from the author.

Independent living is a multidimensional and dynamic construct, which describes both an objective reality and a subjective view of this reality. It incorporates the life conditions and circumstances, which make up a person's life, and the perceptions of those conditions by the person who is living independently. Accordingly, to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, it is necessary to improve both the objective living conditions of people and their perceptions of these conditions. The findings from the present study confirm that independent living can mean different things to different people, depending on their disability and circumstances. Independent living is, for example, very different for someone with a moderate and a profound disability. It can also vary by a person's age and social background. Yet, the underlying principle of independent living is relatively constant. It involves personal choice, alternatives, rights, and control. It is about knowing what you want and having sufficient support and resources to ensure it happens. It is about living a normal life, within the constraints of a person's disability.

The study identified a number of obstacles to independent living, together with some suggestions, which the participants feel would enhance independent living for people with disabilities. Some of these are geared to societal and structural levels, while others are more individual and personal. The former will constitute the basis of the recommendations listed in the following section.

Some of the main obstacles to independent living detailed in the report include: poor co-ordination of disability services, together with low levels of long-term planning; institutionalised mindsets and practices in services, which sustain ingrained ways of doing things and inhibit more creative initiatives; deficient transport options; issues with access and use of buildings and facilities; insufficient and declining resources, which reduce Personal Assistant hours and impact on services generally; difficult access to information in an appropriate format; inadequate transition support; a lack of adult services; low levels of independent advocacy; low expectations of people with disabilities; public attitudes and thoughtlessness; insufficient regard for the rights of people with disabilities; a lack of personal confidence; poor practical skills; lack of support and encouragement from families and staff, and the nature of a person's disability.

8.2 Recommendations

These difficulties and issues suggest a number of recommendations, which are

  1. Practical ways of promoting greater co-ordination of services for people with disabilities should be explored, so that all services relevant to the needs of an individual will be fully aware and involved.
  2. Early and regular assessments should be carried out on people with disabilities to monitor and respond to changes in their circumstances.
  3. People who need to access services for the first time as adults should be facilitated.
  4. Additional resources should be considered for adult services.
  5. Individuals who wish to have greater control over their lives should have the option of direct access to funding.
  6. Current transport options should be evaluated to maximise their efficiency and value for money.
  7. Institutional mindsets in services should be challenged and opportunities for enhanced creativity explored by investigating best practice in Ireland and internationally.
  8. Individuals with disabilities should be supported to consider independent living if they so wish and appropriate supports put in place and sustained.
  9. Disability awareness programmes should be considered for schools and the general public which would challenge public thoughtlessness in relation to disability.