Budget 2020 must prioritise access to employment for people who are blind and visually impaired

26th September 2019, the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) presented today to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Employment Affairs and Social Protection calling on Budget 2020 to facilitate greater employment opportunities for people with a visual impairment.

Chris White, CEO NCBI said “Tragically, only 24% of people who are blind or visually impaired are in employment. They are one of the most marginalised groups in Irish society. This is often down to employer’s misconceptions about how the candidate can do the role or unfamiliarity of the grants available to them to make the adaptions needed. The reality is technology has opened up the world of work for people with sight loss meaning many people can do the same job as a sighted person once they have appropriate technology in place. Employers are overlooking this pool of qualified and experienced people who would relish the opportunity to take up a job.”

The Workplace Adaptation Grant is available to some employers but only €87,000 was earmarked for this fund in 2018 which resulted in 39 applications being successful. This very low level of investment doesn’t demonstrate a commitment to equal opportunities for people with disabilities to get a job. The NCBI recommends increasing this fund to €2m per annum facilitating up to 314 people to take up employment which in turn leads to a net saving of €1.4m to the exchequer. Eligibility for the grant should also be extended to Section 39 organisations (charity organisations).

Another priority for NCBI in Budget 2020 is to extend the free travel scheme to those with a long-term eye condition. Presently, the Free Travel Pass is hugely valued by those who can avail of it but inequity persists when the eligibility criteria is so restrictive posing significant barriers to others to travel independently and free.

Chris White added “Being able to travel independently on public transport is so important for people who are blind or vision impaired. However, the eligibility criteria to obtain a Free Travel Pass is very restrictive and inflexible. Over 700 of our service users cannot see enough to obtain a driver’s licence yet do not qualify to be registered blind and obtain the Free Travel Pass so they have to incur additional expenses to avail of public transport or taxis. Remedying this would only cost the State €70,700 per annum and offer improved independence to many.

“Budget 2020 has the scope to give life-changing opportunities to people who are blind or visually by increasing their employment chances and enabling them to travel independently. The return on investment would be seismic as the level of investment in these two schemes is currently minimal.”

NCBI Oireachtas Briefing 2019 (WORD)

NCBI Oireachtas Briefing 2019 (PDF)

For further information, please contact June Tinsley, Head of Communications on 01 8821917 or 087 9955076.