On 15 November, Viviane Reding – EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship – announced the adoption of a 10 year strategy which promotes equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
The new Disability Strategy 2010-2020 is designed to be the instrument of the EU to promote empowerment of people with disability. It is a key document especially since the Council’s adoption of the decision for the conclusion of the UN Convention of the Rights of persons with disabilities (UNCRPD). The UNCRPD is a legally-binding international instrument to which the EU and its Member States are parties. It will soon apply throughout the EU. The UN Convention requires States Parties to protect and safeguard all human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities.
The Strategy outlines how the EU and national governments can empower people with disabilities so they can enjoy their rights. It focuses especially on removing all obstacles and making all goods and services accessible, to create, according to Viviane Reding, “a truly barrier-free Europe for persons with disabilities by 2020”. The Commission has identified eight main areas for action: Accessibility, Participation, Equality, Employment, Education and training, Social protection, Health, and External Action.
This Strategy identifies actions at EU level to supplement national ones, and it determines the mechanisms needed to implement the UN Convention at EU level, including inside the EU institutions. It also identifies the support needed for funding, research, awareness-raising, statistics and data collection.
Specific measures over the next decade range from the mutual recognition of national disability cards, the promotion of standardisation to a more targeted use of public procurement and state aid rules.
Here is a short review of the areas of action:
1- Accessibility initiative: considering how to use standardisation, public procurement or state aid rules to make all goods and services accessible to people with disabilities while fostering an EU market for assistive devices (“European Accessibility Act”);
2- Participation: making sure that persons with disabilities and their families exercise their EU citizenship rights on an equal footing, for example through the mutual recognition of disability cards and related entitlements.
The European Commission also expressed the commitment to promote the transition from institutional to community-based care by using Structural Funds and the Rural Development Fund to support the development of community-based services and raising awareness of the situation of people with disabilities living in residential institutions, in particular children and elderly people. EU action will support national activities to reach this objective, including use of Structural Funds and the Rural Development Fund for training human resources and adapting social infrastructure, developing personal assistance funding schemes, promoting sound working conditions for professional carers and support for families and informal carers.
3- Equality: this will involve using existing EU legislation to provide protection from discrimination, and implementing an active policy to combat discrimination and promote equal opportunities in EU policies. The Commission will also pay attention to the cumulative impact of discrimination that people with disabilities may experience on other grounds, such as nationality, age, race or ethnicity, sex, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.
4- Employment: the Commission intends to improve knowledge of the employment situation of women and men with disabilities, identify challenges and propose remedies. It will pay particular attention to young people with disabilities in their transition from education to employment. It will address intra-job mobility on the open labour market and in sheltered workshops, through information exchange and mutual learning.
EU action will support and supplement national efforts to: analyse the labour market situation of people with disabilities; fight those disability benefit cultures and traps that discourage them from entering the labour market; help their integration in the labour market making use of the European Social Fund (ESF); develop active labour market policies; make workplaces more accessible; develop services for job placement, support structures and on-the-job training; promote use of the General Block Exemption Regulation16 which allows the granting of state aid without prior notification to the Commission.
5- Education and training: Access to mainstream education for children with severe disabilities is difficult and sometimes segregated. People with disabilities, in particular children, need to be integrated appropriately into the general education system and provided with individual support in the best interest of the child. With full respect for the responsibility of the Member States for the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems, the Commission will support the goal of inclusive, quality education and training under the Youth on the Move initiative. It will increase knowledge on levels of education and opportunities for people with disabilities, and increase their mobility by facilitating participation in the Lifelong Learning Programme.
EU action will support national efforts through ET 2020, the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training, to remove legal and organisational barriers for people with disabilities to general education and lifelong learning systems; provide timely support for inclusive education and personalised learning, and early identification of special needs; provide adequate training and support for professionals working at all levels of education and report on participation rates and outcomes.
6 –Social protection: In full respect of the competence of the Member States, the EU will support national measures to ensure the quality and sustainability of social protection systems for people with disabilities, notably through policy exchange and mutual learning.
7- Health: The Commission will support policy developments for equal access to healthcare, including quality health and rehabilitation services designed for people with disabilities. It will pay specific attention to people with disabilities when implementing policies to tackle health inequalities.
EU action will support national measures to deliver accessible, non-discriminatory health services and facilities; promote awareness of disabilities in medical schools and in curricula for healthcare professionals; provide adequate rehabilitation services; promote mental health services and the development of early intervention and needs assessment services.
8- External action: Promote the rights of people with disabilities within the EU external action, including the enlargement process and development programmes.
Autism-Europe warmly welcomes the range of objectives and actions set out in this strategy that can truly benefit to persons with Autism across Europe. We therefore intend to actively take part in its implementation.
Autism-Europe would also like to support the European Disability Forum’s call for further improvements of the Strategy. For compliance with the UNCRPD, we consider that a transversal revision of the European legislation would be necessary, and not only the review of the EU employment legislation. We would also like to emphasize the importance of the full participation of DPOs in the decision-making processes concerning issues relating to persons with disabilities. In that regard, the creation a State of the Union on disability could be a valuable instrument. The proposal is to hold a high-level meeting every two years with the President of the European Council, the President of the European Parliament, the President of the European Commission and the disability movement. It will examine the progress that has been made on the rights of persons with disabilities on an inter-institutional level. So far, President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, and the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy , have expressed their support for this initiative.