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Too visually impaired to drive but not impaired enough for free travel? Minister urged to step in on scheme

The National Council for the Blind has asked Regina Doherty to allow the 700 people affected to avail of the free travel scheme.

Image: Shutterstock/KG Design

THE NATIONAL COUNCIL for the Blind has written to Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty, asking her to allow a cohort of visually impaired people to be deemed eligible for the free travel pass.

To be eligible for a travel pass – which means you can travel on train, bus and Luas services – you must be in receipt of a blind person’s pension, or be blind/severely visually impaired and satisfy the medical conditions for a blind pension.

And, according to the Road Safety Authority, driving is a “highly visual task” and thus it is thus appropriate to screen people to “prevent people with serious impairment in their central vision from driving”.

However, there are around 700 people who “fall between two stools” in that they do not fulfil the requirements for a travel pass but are also not deemed to have adequate vision to be able to get a drivers’ licence, according to the National Council for the Blind.

Its head of policy, advocacy and campaigns Kevin Kelly told TheJournal.ie: “To qualify for blind registration and eligibility for free travel, best corrected vision must be equal to or less than 6/60 in better eye or field of vision must be limited to the extent that widest diameter of vision subtends an angle not greater than 20°.

People whose vision does not meet the above qualifying criteria for registration as blind and do not meet the qualifying criteria for driving a car are missing out. They cannot drive but they cannot avail of the free travel scheme.

He said that the free travel scheme is a vital means of supporting of independent travel and living for people who are blind and visually impaired.

The scheme is “something that is hugely valued” by those who can avail of it, Kelly said. 

“One of the main impacts of blindness and vision impairment is lack of capacity to drive a car and therefore public transport is the only means of independent travel for school, college, work, leisure activities for people who are blind and vision impaired,” he said.

The NCBI wrote to Minister Regina Doherty late last year, urging her to allow the roughly 700 people registered with the charity that this affects.

In response to a request from TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the department reiterated the requirements both for driving and for the free travel pass. 

“Any decision to extend the qualifying criteria for the free travel scheme could only be considered in a budgetary context,” the spokesperson added. 

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Sean Murray

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