On May 23, 2023, Autism-Europe’s (AE) delegation joined the fifth European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities (EPPD). Over 700 disability advocates from all over Europe gathered in the hemicycle of the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels. Organised by the European Disability Forum (EDF) together with the European Parliament, EPPD set out to discuss the European Union’s role in advancing disability rights. Autism-Europe’s board member Pietro Cirrincione from Italy intervened to call for disability inclusive resilience in the face of humanitarian emergencies such as the war in Ukraine.
The fifth EPPD marked the adoption of the EDF’s Manifesto on the 2024 European Elections – the roadmap of the European Disability Forum’s campaign for next year’s elections. The manifesto highlights the disability movement’s demand to be fully involved in the EU political process. The comprehensive proposals outlined by the manifesto focuses on realising a Union of Equality; becoming a more social Europe; embracing accessibility and protecting persons with disabilities.
Opening the EPPD together European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, EDF president Yannis Vardakastanis called for the EU institutions to ensure that disabled people can participate in the democratic process and in the policies shaping the European Union to build an inclusive Europe.
Then many disability advocates from Europe and around the world, several Members of European Parliament (MEPs), three European Commissioners, the European Ombudsman, two representatives from EU Member States governments, a representative from an EU member state parliament and a large number of other relevant stakeholders took the floor to call for full inclusion for persons with disabilities. Dr. Alistair de Gaetano, autistic representative from the disability ministry of Malta, particularly welcomed that due to the EPPD event fellow autistic people are present at the European Parliament. He announced that Malta is in the process of banning forced sterilization of persons with disabilities.
The afternoon panels were kicked off by European Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, announcing that the European Commission’s proposal for the European Disability Card will be published in autumn 2023. MEP Chiara Maria Gemma in her intervention called for for labour market inclusion of people with disabilities, and highlighted that she has been working with autistic trainees at her European Parliament office in Brussels.
AE representative’s powerful call for supporting Ukrainians with disabilities
The last panel on disability-inclusive resilience saw Valerii Sushkevych, Head of the National Assembly of Persons with Disabilities (NAPD) from Ukraine, recounting the gross violation of human rights and the lack of services for people with disabilities in his home country especially since Russia’s full scale invasion into the Ukraine. Autism-Europe board member, Pietro Cirrincione from Italy, called for professional and individualized support for Ukrainian refugees with disabilities. The war and its consequences (including the sensory overload accompanying the bombing) lead to permanent trauma. Pietro Cirrincione called on all MEPs to make every diplomatic effort to end this war. He highlighted that EU support must not go into segregating and inaccessible services for people with disabilities when rebuilding Ukraine after the war.