What is the Disability Act?

The Disability Act 2005 is a law that was passed on 8 July 2005. It says that Government departments and public bodies must work to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.

How does it apply to the Ombudsman?

The Disability Act gives the Ombudsman the powers to examine complaints about Part 3 of the Act. This Part of the Act deals with:​

What is the law about access to public buildings?

Public bodies must ensure that public buildings are accessible "as far as practicable" to persons with disabilities according to section 25 of the Disability Act. A "public building" is a building, or part of a building, that is occupied, managed or controlled by a public body and is open to members of the public.

Code of practice

When public buildings are being built, altered or extended, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform can ask the National Disability Authority (NDA) to prepare and send in a draft code of practice about access to public buildings. This also applies when there is a cost-effective option that will make the building accessible to more people.

If the Minister approves the NDA’s code of practice, public bodies must follow it "...to such an extent as is practical having regard to its resources and obligations".

Building Regulations Act

Public buildings, facilities and their surroundings must be made as accessible as possible for all members of the public. This includes parking and setting down areas, lobbies, stairwells, door widths and accessible toilet facilities.

This requirement is outlined in part M of the Building Regulations Act, and public buildings must abide by any amendment made to part M within 10 years of that amendment. Information about the most recent amendments are available here [insert link].

When do these regulations not apply?

If the use of a public building is temporary (and it will not be accessible to the public within 3 years of a Minister’s order) or adjustments are considered too costly to make, the Minister can decide the regulations don’t apply to that building.

Before making an order, the Minister must consult with "such other Ministers or such other persons as he or she considers appropriate".

What is a “service”?

A “service” is a service or facility of any kind provided to members of the public by a public body. Services include:

  • public use of a place or facility owned, managed or controlled by a public body

  • information, allowances or other benefits provided by a public body

  • cultural or heritage services provided by a public body

  • any service provided by a court or other tribunal

What must “service providers” put in place?

Section 26 of the Act says public bodies that provide a service must:

  • ensure access for people with disabilities "where practical and appropriate"

  • help people with disabilities, if requested, "where practical and appropriate"

  • make sure someone with the right skills is available to advise the body about accessibility for people with disabilities, "where appropriate"

put at least one staff member in charge of providing assistance and guidance to people with disabilities who access its services. This person is called an Access Officer. (The Office of the Ombudsman has an Access Officer. Here is a link to our Access Officer's details)

Section 27 of the Act says that services provided to a public body must be accessible to people with disabilities.

The Act says that the previous points shall not apply if providing access for people with disabilities

  1. isn’t practical

  2. isn’t justified due to cost

  3. would create a long delay in making the goods or services available to other people

This section of the Act says that, “…as far as practicable, the contents of the communication are communicated in a form that is accessible to the person concerned”.

Public bodies who, for example, communicate by e-mail or publish information online must ensure that, "as far as practicable", this information is transmitted or published in a format that works with adaptive technologies used by people with vision problems. Public bodies must also ensure that, "as far as practicable", information relevant to people with intellectual disabilities is published in language that is clearly understood by those people.

A "heritage site" includes:

  1. a monument as described by the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2004

  2. a heritage building, garden or park as described by the Heritage Act 1995

  3. a protected structure or a proposed protected structure and its surrounding areas, or an architectural conservation area, as described by the Planning and Development Act 2000

  4. a nature reserve as described by the Wildlife Acts 1976 and 2000

  5. a national park owned by the State and under the management and control of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government

Section 29 says public bodies shall, "as far as practicable", ensure that all or part of a heritage site in its ownership, management or control to which the public has access, is accessible to people with disabilities.

The Act also says that the previous points shall not apply if they would:

  • have a negative effect on the conservation status of a species or habitat or the integrity of a heritage site

  • change the particular nature of the site

The Act does not allow for illegal changes to a heritage site.

Under the Disability Act 2005, 6 Government Ministers must prepare and publish sectoral plans. These plans apply to services provided by the Minister and other related public bodies. They describe proposed actions for providing services to people with disabilities.

Which Ministers must publish sectoral plans?

This means you can complain to the Ombudsman if you think a public body has not followed the law. For example, the Ombudsman can look into complaints about access to public buildings. However, before you contact the Ombudsman, first you must complain to the public body whose action or decision has affected you.  If the provider has a complaints or appeals system in place, you should use it.

If you have complained to the public body and believe its decision on your complaint was wrong, then you can contact the Ombudsman.
 
The Ombudsman can also examine complaints about sectoral plans prepared under Section 31 of the Act. These are detailed statements produced by certain Government Ministers about services for persons with disabilities. 

If you want to complain to the Ombudsman about a sectoral plan, you must first use the complaints procedures set out in the relevant plan.
 
An information leaflet about the Ombudsman's role under the Disability Act 2005 is available on this website.
 
The Ombudsman has no role in relation to other Parts of the Disability Act such as assessment of needs (Part 2) or public service employment (Part 5).