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European Day of Persons with Disabilities 2023: our main takeaways

The European Day of Persons with Disabilities (EDPD) Conference is an annual event organized by the European Commission in collaboration with the European Disability Forum to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The 2023 edition of the conference was held on 30 November and 1 December in Brussels, Belgium. The two-day conference brought together over 400 policy-makers, high-level experts, and disability advocates to share their concerns and aspirations, discuss progress of policy implementation, and exchange on the advancement of rights of people with disabilities. Autism-Europe was represented by a delegation of members and staff, led by its President. 

The two-day conference is a key opportunity to take stock and exchange on the advancement of the rights of people with disabilities and the implementation of the European Strategy for the Rights of People with Disabilities 2020-2023. This year, the EDPD conference was also looking ahead to the European Elections to be held in 2024, with European Commission and EU member states stakeholders discussing the accessibility of the electoral process. It was highlighted that thousands of European Union citizens with disabilities living in many of the 27 EU member states are disenfranchised from their right to vote simply because they are denied the exercise of their legal capacity. This is a concern also for many autistic people in Europe. 

Another relevant topic discussed was the skilling and employment of people with disabilities. Autism-Europe’s representative at the EDF Youth Committee, autistic Irish student Ben Rowsome from AE’s member AsIAm raised awareness of the specific issues autistic people face when trying to access employment starting with writing a CV all the way to how to conduct themselves at a job interview. Ben also deplored a current shift in mindset in his home county Ireland that could have the potential to restrict disability allowance based on disabled people’s employability and their type of disabilities. This would negatively affect people with invisible disabilities such as those on the autism spectrum.

Re-watch the recording of the first day here

The second day saw the AccessCity2024 awards, a European Commission prize to steer accessibility of urban spaces across the European Union. Several prizes were given to several cities across the Union. South Dublin County received a special mention for landscape and playground areas. In his acceptance speech, Irish capital district mayor Alan Edge emphasized how these playgrounds were made accessible for autistic children by improving their sensory friendliness. They were co-designed with autistic children and their families paying attention to colours and the environment. Third prize went to Saint-Quentin in France for among others introducing support centres for children with disabilities into schools and sensory tents in public spaces for those on the autism spectrum. Second prize went to the Polish city Łódź and first prize to the Spanish Tenerife island city of San Cristobál de La Laguna for providing sensory backpacks for festivals, allowing to hear music through vibration, easy-to-read materials, and sign language interpretation in public administration. 

The EDPD was rounded up with a general discussion on improving disability rights in the EU. Among the issues discussed was the upcoming European Disability Card and how the upcoming Belgian EU Council Presidency and the European Parliament are planning to finish negotiating the final agreement on the EU Disability Card before the European Election in 2024.

Autism-Europe was delighted to see that following guidance we issued in previous year, our interaction badges were made available to participants. We also warmly welcomed significant improvement regarding the quiet room and its sign-posting, as well as the availability of easy-to-read materials of the conference programme and the pre-written interventions. AE is convinced that these measures together with easy-to-understand verbal summaries of panelists’ interventions and speech-to-text support can benefit every participant to have a meaningful exchange.

Re-watch the second day here

View some photos here

More information here