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European Parliament debated access to employment for autistic people in plenary

On 10 June 2021, the European Parliament plenary debated a set of questions drafted after an in-depth consultation with Autism-Europe, regarding the European Commission’s actions to promote employment for autistic people across the European Union. Members of the European Parliament called for targeted and strategic actions at the EU-level to foster the inclusion of autistic people. European Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, reiterated the commitment to the Union of Equality.

The debate lasted over 90 minutes. 23 Members of the European Parliament from 15 different EU member states intervened, including from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Romania, Ireland, Portugal, Czechia, Slovakia, and Malta. It focused mainly on access to employment for autistic people, but also addressed issues such as education, access to community-based support services, and access to health.

Commissioner Dalli opened the debate by welcoming the work of Autism-Europe, calling for continued cooperation to exchange views on European policies to improve the situation of autistic people and take into account the specificities of their disability. She highlighted Autism-Europe’s report on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on autistic people and their families and Autism-Europe’s current campaign “I can learn. I can work.”.

As one of the rapporteurs on the questions, Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová, the chair of the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, emphasized that the EU needs to take action to ensure equal rights of autistic people. Katrin Langensiepen, another rapporteur on the questions and vice-chair of the committee, called for the unblocking of the EU horizontal anti-discrimination directive. She also reiterated the demands of her report on equal treatment in employment and occupation and  highlighted AE current campaign. She stressed the important role of representative organisations such as Autism-Europe that have to be involved in decision-making. MEP Stelios Kympouropoulos called for ensuring full access to  legal capacity for autistic people and promote employment in the open labour market. MEP Pierfrancesco Majorino insisted that EU Funds should be used to support people on the autism spectrum. MEP Dragoș Pîslaru highlighted the responsibility of the public sector as a good employer for autistic people. MEP Izabela Kloc pointed to the recent resolution adopted in Poland to take strategic action for people on the autism spectrum which was drafted with the support of Autism-Europe’s member Fundacja JiM. MEP José Gusmão called for employment quotas and more accessibility of employment for autistic people. MEP Chiara Gemma called for people on the autism spectrum to find a place in the employment market and get all the support they need to have a fulfilled life. MEP Alex Agius Saliba called for more focus in the European Commission’s European Disability Rights Strategy on the needs of autistic people. MEP Radka Maxová denounced the fact that people on the autism spectrum often experience in-work poverty. MEP Victor Negrescu called for using the resilience and recovery plan to support autistic people.

To wrap up the debate, Commissioner Helena Dalli recalled the EU commitment to a Union of Equality through the adoption of the European Disability Rights Strategy 2020-2030 that takes into account the diversity of disability. She also highlighted that member states have a key role to play to deliver on the European Disability Strategy.

Why the debate today?

This was not the first time the rights and needs of autistic people and their families were a prominent concern in the European Parliament plenary.

The questions debated today and answered by Commissioner Dalli, focused on possible specific actions to be carried out by the Commission to help improve the lives of autistic people across the EU. The questions related to need to enhance the employment outcomes for autistic people, on collecting disaggregated data of autistic people in employment, and the improvement of the general quality of life of people on the autism spectrum.

They were drafted by the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) at the beginning of 2020 following an EMPL committee hearing of Autism-Europe’s director Aurelie Baranger on 5 November 2019 on the state of play of employment of autistic people in Europe.

After the hearing, the EMPL committee coordinators agreed to add the issue to their work priorities. Delayed by practical arrangements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Autism-Europe was consulted on the precise nature of the questions in winter 2020 and again in spring 2021.

The set of questions takes stock of the specific impact the pandemic had on individual autistic people and their relatives across the EU. On 18 March 2021, the EMPL committee voted almost unanimously to forward the final version of the set of questions to the European Commission and as a result, they were debated in the chamber in Strasbourg on 10 June 2021.