The 10 April 2018 saw AE’s exhibition make its way to the European Parliament in Brussels. The exhibition, titled “Break Barriers Together for Autism” was officially opened at a ceremony where guests were welcomed by hosting MEP Rosa Estaràs Ferragut, and President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani. Also addressing participants at the exhibition’s opening were President of Autism-Europe, Zsuzsanna Szilvasy and European Disability Forum (EDF) Board Member, Gunta Anca.
Welcoming guests to the vernissage of AE’s campaign exhibition, President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Rosa Estaràs Ferragut underlined the role the European Parliament can play in removing barriers, and supporting autistic people and their families both in reaching their full potential, and in enjoying their full human rights.
“This event, which marks World Autism Awareness Day, helps us to become aware in order to overcome the difficulties faced by autistic people. It is important that we continue working so that thousands of people with autism across Europe can be fully integrated into society (…) Each man and woman is important and is a gift to society; this is why I think that it is important to embrace that gift”, said Tajani.
President of Autism-Europe, Zsuzsanna Szilvasy, reminded guests of the underlying theme of the exhibition, and the barriers that many autistic people and their families face. She referred to AE’s new publication providing testimonies on accessibility from members of the autism community, and invited guests to read through it to have an insight into what barriers truly mean for autistic people and their families, as well as how together we can work towards overcoming them.
Szilvasy also highlighted the issue of accessibility, which is central to Autism-Europe’s campaign. She made reference to the role of the European Parliament in fostering greater accessibility for autistic people, not least by supporting a strong European Accessibility Act (EAA) which is currently nearing its final negotiations between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union.
“The EAA is a key piece of legislation to remove barriers for millions of European citizens with disabilities in Europe. Autism-Europe has been actively voicing the accessibility needs of autistic people and their families since the initial stage of the elaboration of the Act. For them, it is essential that accessibility of communication is properly addressed in the EAA. For autistic people, and others, it is key to consider easy-to-read and easy-to-understand accessibility requirements, not to leave anyone behind”, Szilvasy said.
Gunta Anca from EDF further focused her talk on the importance of a strong EAA, stressing that Europe cannot afford to leave existing barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from taking part fully in society. Referring to some areas in which the European Commission’s original proposal has been watered down in the agreed position taken by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, she stated that the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament should agree to take the best of each proposal, not the “compromised minimum”. This includes topics such as Public Procurement, services, inclusion of microenterprises and the built environment in the act, transport and emergency services (including emergency calls), among other demands.
Staff from the AE secretariat also invited participants at the event – which included a number of Members of the European Parliament, representatives from autism and disability organisations, and other interested stakeholders – to join them in symbolically breaking barriers for autism. Participants did this by filming themselves ripping up pieces of paper bearing a description of various barriers autistic people and their families face.
The photo exhibition
Pictures have been taken by three photographers from the UK (Graham Miller), Poland (Michał Awin) and Luxembourg (André Weisgerber), all aiming to help people understand what accessibility means for those on the autism spectrum and what kind of obstacles they face in their everyday lives. Ultimately, the exhibition also aims at celebrating human diversity and at triggering a reflection on how to create the conditions for better inclusion for all in the community.