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 with a wide range of politicians, self-advocates and high-level experts the potential shape of the next EU Disability Strategy and the ways in which it could be implemented, notably in the context of the next Multiannual Financial Framework.
The European Day of Persons with Disabilities (EDPD) conference, held on the 3-4 December, was an occasion to promote the mainstreaming of disability issues and to raise awareness on everyday challenges faced by disabled people. Hundreds of persons with disabilities, the European Commission, members of the European Parliament, the Council, public authorities and other stakeholders and experts discussed the challenges, the solutions and the projects that are being prepared for improving policies for persons with disabilities. Since 2018 is the European Year of Cultural Heritage, the event also looked at how the European Union foster access for disabled people to its cultural wealth on an equal basis with other citizens.
In keeping with these issues, Autism-Europe’s Vice President and self-advocate Pietro Cirrincione raised some of the issues faced by people on the autism spectrum:
“We are still behind in the implementation of the UN Convention for people on the autism spectrum, not only because of stigmatization, but also because the implementation is difficult if our accessibility needs and support needs are not understood by those who should enforce our rights, and implement the Convention, even if they are ready and want to respect our rights.
For our part; we are happy to let you know our needs, but it is urgent that the European Commission promote awareness, disseminate information to public institutions and public services on how to implement the convention for hidden disabilities, so that in 2030 we will not be behind the other disabilities.”
Autism-Europe had a diverse delegation of members at the event, including self-advocates and family members from diverse countries to advance the rights of autistic people.
Two different panel discussions took place during the first day. The first one focused on the path towards the new European Disability Strategy 2020- 2030. It looked at upcoming consultation on the implementation of the UN CRPD through the current European Disability strategy 2010-2020, which led to the upcoming adoption of the European Accessibility Act.
Joost Korte, Director General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, European Commission, DG EMPL, stated: “Through the European Accessibility Act, we establish the world’s first market for accessible products and services and, in the next decades, more than 120 million European with disabilities will be able to benefit from this Act.”
Helga Stevens, Member of the European Parliament, about her parliamentary report on the implementation of the current EU Disability Strategy and the process to come: “The report proposes that the Commission ensures that all future disability strategy aims at fully implementing the UN CRPD in all areas of EU policy (…) The Commission also needs to mainstream accessibility in all policy areas, in public and private sectors, including in the digital marketing strategy (…) EU funding should include a budget for accessibility.”
Emmanuelle Grange, Head of the Disability and Inclusion Unit, European Commission, DG EMPL recalled the process for the consultation on the future disability strategy and explained that the consultation to be launched in 2019 will address actions carried out in the 8 current priority areas: accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education, social protection, external action and the Pillar of Social Rights.
Mihaela Ivanona, a young self-advocate of Lumos, shared her experience and provided a poignant reminder that implementing disability rights are a matter of urgency and should be done with the full participation of disabled people: “I was in an institution for three years and I was isolated for three months in a room with bars. I see the path to equality as a ladder for the EU to climb. Our human rights are value. Every country should have accessible ways of taking our opinion into consideration.”
The second panel brought forth the question of how the next Multiannual Financial Framework will contribute to the implementation of the new strategy.
Andriana Sukova, Deputy Director-General, European Commission, DG EMPL, speaking about the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund: “The EU Social Fund will support persons with disabilities by supporting the transition from institutional care to community-based care; accessing to quality, sustainable and affordable services and fostering equal opportunities and non-discrimination.”
Daniela Bankier, Head of the programme management unit, European Commission, DG JUST presented another part of the funding dedicated to disability : “As part of the Multiannual Financial Framework post 2020, the Rights and Values Program will be the successor program of what is presently the Rights Equality and the Citizenship Program. The fund aims to sustain open, democratic and inclusive societies and empower people.”
Closing the panel, Nadia Hadad, member of the European Disability Forum Executive Committee highlighted some key priorities for the disability movement: “We want the EU to invest in implementing the CRPD and the SDGs, and to foster deinstitutionalization, accessibility of environment, products and services, housing and inclusive education and participation in the labour market.”
The second day, a third panel was devoted to making cultural heritage accessible to all, in the framework of the European Year of Cultural Heritage. Different examples of best practices on accessibility were showcased, such as the actions undertaken by the Louvre Museum or the city of Salzburg (Access City 2012), the EU Disability Card project, already being tested in 8 different EU countries, or the technical standard UNE 41531 IN aiming at reaching a balance between adaptation and preservation of historical spaces.
2019 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, who commented:
“This is the year of the European Accessibility Act. I know very well the final agreement is not perfect and that many of you would have liked to see more areas covered. My proposal was more ambitious. Europe is also about breaking down barriers to inclusion.”
The winner of 2019 Access City Award was Breda (Nederland) for its inclusive philosophy, commitment to accessibility, engagement with persons with disabilities and continuous improvement. The 2nd prize went to Evreux (France) and the 3rd prize to Gdynia (Poland). A special mention for innovative building environment in challenging topography was given to Vigo (Spain) and to Kaposvár (Hungary), for commitment to improvement.
This year, a special prize was also awarded to the cities of Viborg (Denmark) and Monteverde (Italy), that have made an effort to improve access to cultural heritage. The awards were also presented by EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics:
“My ambition for the EU Year of Cultural Heritage has been to encourage more people to explore our roots. We need to improve access for persons with disabilities. We should do more to open up opportunities to create a more equitable cultural space.”