At least one large local authority is not adhering to the law by providing an access or disability officer, amid calls for greater clarity on the use of the role for people struggling with housing and other issues.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that Fingal County Council, one of the largest in the country, does not have a disability officer, but said this had not prompted any complaints.
According to Eithne Fitzgerald, head of policy at the National Disability Authority, having an access officer is a legal requirement for public bodies under the Disability Act 2005.
The issue has been raised of late by Fine Gael senator Colm Burke, who said the terms ‘access officer’ and ‘disability officer’ appear to be interchangeable in some cases, even though their roles can be interpreted differently.
The figures from some of the larger local authorities also found that the work on housing adaptation and improvements for those living in local authority dwellings was dwarfed by the amount spent improving dwellings for people with disabilities living in private properties.
Mr Burke recently described as “unacceptable” a seven-year wait endured by a family in Cork for housing adaptation on disability grounds.
He told the Irish Examiner he had sought information as to the identity of the disability officers in Cork City Council, but had not received an adequate response.
Cork City Council said it had two access officers, with the role not extending to the adaptation of non-public buildings.
Other local authorities said the role of an access or disability officer was essentially limited to public spaces, meaning any housing issues — particularly in local authority properties — typically need to be addressed via housing adaptation grants.
Mr Burke said: “The purpose of the Act is defeated if you have someone who wants to get access to local authority services and does not know where to start.”
Figures from the four Dublin councils, as well as Cork City Council and Limerick Council, indicate that, in general, more than double the amount of money is provided for improvements to private dwellings than local authority properties.
Alison Ryan of the Disability Federation of Ireland said it wants “clarity” on the role of access and disability officers.
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