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Delegations of disabled people from all over Europe meet to celebrate diversity and social inclusion

To mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December), the European Disability Forum (EDF) co-organised a two-day conference with the European Commission to discuss citizenship, political participation, sustainable development and urban accessibility with a wide range of politicians and high-level experts.

The European Day of Persons with Disabilities (EDPD), held on the 4-5 December, was an occasion to celebrate citizenship. Hundreds of persons with disabilities, the European Commission, members of the European Parliament, the Council, public authorities and other stakeholders and experts discussed how persons with disabilities can be better informed about their rights and how they can make their voices heard. The event also addressed the right to political participation and the possibility of making cities more inclusive for all.

In keeping with this theme, Autism-Europe’s Vice President and self-advocate Pietro Cirrincione explained some of the issues faced by people on the autism spectrum:

“We need political programmes in straight forward language. Some parties change what they say or exaggerate. It is disorienting for us and makes it hard to make choices about who to vote for”.

Autism-Europe had a large delegation at the event, including self-advocates, family members and staff to advance the rights of autistic people (see the picture below).

Two different panel discussions took place during the first day. The first focused on the social aspect and was an opportunity to receive an update on European initiatives for better inclusion of persons with disabilities. The Social Pillar, the Work Life Balance, health insurance, disability pensions and the Sustainable Development Goals were among the subjects discussed.

EDF’s President Yannis Vardakastanis stated:  “We welcome the EU Pillar of Social Rights. Now it is the obligation of the EU institutions, DPOs and citizens to make sure that commitments are met. From EDF, we are going to do our share; (…) After 10 years of crisis and cuts in many countries, 2020-2030 should be a strong decade. Let’s hope we can get the Equal Treatment Directive”.

The second panel brought forth the question of political participation. The right to vote and to be elected was discussed and participants also heard personal testimonies about how this right has been taken away from numerous individuals. The purpose of this panel was to identify challenges faced by persons with disabilities regarding the rights to political participation, and to find solutions to foster real equality with regards to this fundamental right.

EDF’s Executive committee member Albert Prévos stated: “Participating in political life therefore is not a luxury for a person with disability. It is a fundamental precognition for allowing them to exercise their own autonomy (…) Only 12 countries of the EU have adopted disability standards and most of them concern physical disabilities. Those suffering intellectual disabilities have no access to electoral manifesto’s and materials”.

Representative of the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers of the European Commission stated: “People with disabilities are more interested in politics than the general population. They participated in elections as much as citizens without disabilities. However, the research revealed underlying inequality, especially for those people with more disabilities”.

Member of the European Parliament Soledad Cabezón stated: “People with intellectual disabilities shouldn’t be considered to be people with more disability, but different abilities. We all have to make the necessary efforts to ensure integration of everyone and to ensure that they are fully autonomous. (…) We call on all EU Member States to ensure that laws are reformed before EU elections 2019 so that all people with disabilities, included those with mental health problems, can vote”.

Self-advocate with Down syndrome David Clarke stated: “People with intellectual disabilities are often excluded from taking part in elections because of the lack of awareness and of easy-to-read information. We are not expected to have an opinion or to make a decision”.

Access City Awards

An important moment of the conference was the Ceremony of the Access City Award on the second day. This is the European prize that rewards cities for their efforts in becoming accessible to all. The awards were given to the representatives of the winning cities by the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen:

“By 2020 we expect to have 120 million people in the EU with some form of disability. I want a Europe where the simple things in life are simple for everyone!”

The Commissioner also addressed EDF and gave her congratulations to the organisation for reaching its 20-year anniversary earlier in 2017.

The winner of 2018 Access City Award was Lyon (France). The 2nd prize went to Ljubljana (Slovenia) and the 3rd prize to the City of Luxembourg (Luxembourg). A special mention on Accessibility in Historical Settings was given to Viborg (Denmark).

More information about the Access City Award

Watch the video of the first day of the conference (December 4)

Watch the video of the first day of the conference (December 5)

Follow all updates on Twitter using the hashtags: #EUdisability, #EDPD2017, #WeAreEUCitizens and #EUAccessCity.