On Rights-Based Services for People with Disabilities


On Rights-Based Services for People with Disabilities

By Brian Nolan. Embargo: 00:01 hours, Wednesday 12 November 2003.

The adoption of a “rights-based approach” in legislation is now a core demand of groups representing people with disabilities. This study, based on a report for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, brings out first that adopting such an approach can mean different things to different people. It points out that alternative ways of delivering services and framing and enforcing entitlements can legitimately be seen as based on a rights perspective, that rights may be realised progressively over time, and that the law courts may not be the only effective enforcement mechanism.

A rights-based approach is seen as central in the proposals for a revised Disability Bill from the Disability Legislation Consultation Group (DLCG), and in terms of services this is interpreted in a particular way: an individual’s needs should be assessed independently, the services identified as needed should be made available as a right, and their delivery should be enforceable in court. This would mean that decisions about service provision and resource allocation would be made by professionals and the courts, without direct reference to the Oireachtas or the availability of resources.

To inform the Irish debate, the study reviews structures and approaches to the provision of services and advocacy to people with disabilities in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK. None of these countries has independent assessment of need carrying with it rights to services enforceable in court. In New Zealand, for example, needs are assessed without reference to resource availability, but this does not entitle people to the services identified as needed. In the UK, entitlement to services is based largely on eligibility criteria set at local level, and in establishing those criteria resources are taken into account.

The study argues that it should be possible to make progress incrementally in this area in Ireland. It would be a significant advance if:

  • the state, through the relevant authorities, set out clearly what level of service provision the current level of resources is intended to underpin;
  • people with disabilities had an entitlement to those services with appropriate enforcement mechanisms;
  • there was a clear and detailed plan for improving services over time as more resources become available.

While this would have to overcome real practical difficulties, it could empower the individual, provide a lever to promote efficiency, greatly increase capacity to make long-term planning and resource allocation decisions, and lead to a better informed public and political debate. 

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