The method would see the State giving cash payments to people with disabilities who can then determine the services or therapies they know they need.
Currently, needs are assessed and then allocated, often according to availability or protocols, primarily by the HSE. Disability rights campaigners say this method takes a certain amount of control away from the person with the disability.
“Direct payments is a simple life-changing idea that can bring about a seismic shift in the way we support and fund disability services,” said campaigner Martin Naughton.
“With this one simple change, people with disabilities will be given control, choice and flexibility over the decisions that affect our lives. This is something that the vast majority of the population expects as normal but for people with disabilities, this just isn’t a reality.”
Speaking at a national conference on disabilities at the weekend, Mr Naughton said other countries which have introduced direct payment schemes found them to be not only successful, but cost effective.
He estimates the scheme would make disability supports at least 7% more efficient, resulting in a saving of at least €100m.
A pilot project of a direct payment scheme, run by Áiseanna Tacaíochta (ÁT), a leading organisation in the Independent Living movement, has been well received so far. Though only a small number of people are involved at the moment, they say direct payment has drastically improved their quality of life.
“I have so much more independence now and so many more goals to achieve and so much more understanding of my own worth and my own abilities,” said Jonathan Ryan who suffered a spinal cord injury four years ago.
“I’m able to take on new aspects such as study and plan things I wouldn’t have had the ability to do before because I would have had no control over how my care would have been managed.”
A big turnout for A Declaration of Independence in Athlone today. Some moving stories about ppl with disabilities pic.twitter.com/DzO0W2xiGg— Ceallach Ní Bhriain (Kelly O'Brien) (@Kellingtondawg) June 13, 2015
While Mr Naughton, who organised the ‘A Declaration of Independence’ conference on disabilities, wants to highlight the benefits of the direct payment scheme, he also wants to encourage “a new generation of leaders and activists” to make their voices heard.
He said years of austerity and cutbacks have effectively silenced and weakened the disability sector.
“Change, the momentous, game-changing progression we need, won’t and can’t happen in silence. We have to inspire leadership and the first step to doing this is to put in place structures that will support new leaders to step up and speak out,” he said.
“There were more than 200 people who said they would have loved to have been at the event but couldn’t make it because of their condition or personal circumstances. Next time we do this, in two years’ time, I hope enough will have changed that everyone who wants to be here will be able to be here.”
Following the conference, a set of ideals called the Athlone Principles will be drawn up to focus on what needs to happen next for people with disabilities.