To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his Department's progress in fulfilling its statutory obligation as a public body of promoting the rights of disabled people.
As a general principle the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) fulfils its statutory obligation as a public body for promoting the rights of disabled people through its equality scheme set up under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 which has disability as an equality category. The Department is presently reviewing its Equality Scheme and is in consultation with the Disability Commission to determine what if any additional measures need to be incorporated to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 2005.
At a practical level the NIO has developed it arrangements to support disabled people.
A textphone service is available in the Department to allow people with hearing or speech disabilities to make contact with us.
Arrangements for disabled people attending NIO events (e.g. Hillsborough Garden Party) have been reviewed recently in accordance with best practice guidelines on making events accessible.
We are committed to widening the diversity of the people who sit on NIO public bodies: attracting and appointing more disabled people is a key element of this aim. Public appointment opportunities are circulated to 140 community groups and 1,400 individuals who have expressed an interest in applying for public appointments in Northern Ireland.
The NIO participates in the Employment Support Scheme, run by the Department of Employment and Learning, which gives people whose disabilities would make it difficult for them to compete for and retain jobs in the open labour market the opportunity to work alongside non-disabled people.
Within the Department a number of initiatives have concentrated on better facilities for staff with disabilities which include:
A new IT System where provision was considered for disability including the appropriate software required for members of staff with sight impairment. Measures were also considered during the extensive training programme.
A bursary scheme for staff with disabilities targeted at those with the potential to reach Grade A. This scheme provides the bursary holder with targeted training, placements and a SCS mentor to assist them develop the competences needed to aim for promotion.
Promoting a working environment in the Department which actively challenges prejudice in relation to disability. This is done by raising awareness of disability issues through publicising good employment practice and the provision of disability awareness training.
The provision of a Disabled Persons' Liaison Officer to liaise with disabled staff and managers to ensure that jobs are adapted to the specific needs of individuals such as - adjustments to premises to alleviate access problems, reorganising the duties of a post to suit a particular disability, to organise the transfer of staff to a particular post suited to their disability, altering the working hours of an individual to facilitate rehabilitation or treatment, provision of information to suit the needs of staff with visual disabilities i.e. conversion to Braille, acquiring or adapting office equipment, the provision of sign language interpreters for staff with hearing difficulties and facilitation of a disability network group which is self run by disabled NIO staff who meet regularly to discuss issues affecting disabled staff in the Department.