EU pays closer attention to the situation of disabled people and the question of the legal basis on which it would introduce a genuine EU disability policy became increasingly important.
Disability-related activities about the equal opportunity for people with disabilities started many years ago, in 1959 at the Council of Europe within the framework of the Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field. In 1996, the European Commission published a communication entitled ‘Equality of Opportunity for People with Disabilities′ – A New European Community Disability Strategy. Specific measures to tackle discrimination were implemented and in May 1999 the social partners formally adopted the Joint Declaration on the Employment of People with Disabilities.
Another important document, the Council of Europe Disability Action Plan 2006-2015 guarantees full and active participation in society, equal opportunities, non-discrimination, independent living in the local community, in short: full citizenship for all people with disabilities. The Plan provides a ten-year reference framework for disability policy and legislation based on human rights. Its fifteen key action lines cover more than 40 objectives and more than 160 specific actions to be undertaken by member states.
In the development of EU initiatives on the rights of persons with disabilities, these overarching legal and policy frameworks are important to consider:
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – is an international human rights treaty that clarifies that all persons with disabilities have the right to participate in the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural life of the community, just as anyone else. The Convention says what public and private authorities must do to ensure and promote the full enjoyment of these rights by all people with disabilities. All EU Member States and the European Union have ratified this important legal framework.
European Charter of Fundamental Rights brings together the fundamental rights of everyone living in the EU. The Charter is legally binding in the EU. It means that all the institutions and bodies of the EU, including national governments, need to respect the rights contained in the Charter when drafting EU law and policy. At the national level, policymakers should respect the Charter when implementing EU law.
To continue its activities, the EU published a ‘European Disability Strategy 2010-2020′ to promote a barrier-free Europe and to empower people with disabilities so that they can enjoy their rights and participate fully in society and economy. It describes a set of objectives and actions for the implementation of the disability policy. Its Priority areas focus on accessibility; participation; equality; employment; education and training; social protection; health and external action.
As the next programming period is coming up, here are some critical remarks and suggestions about points that need to be taken into account: There is a lack of references to intellectual/multiple/severe disability – the entire strategy paper focuses mainly on the specific situation of persons with physical disabilities, giving a one-sided image European. Union should address the problem of which undermines the quality of the services provided and in some cases also their availability should be the most important outcome measure. Users should be asked for their personal feedback.
Topics to come next: Independent Living; Quality of Life; Service providers for disabled people and quality of services; Training of mainstream and specialized staff working with people with disabilities; Sustainability of funding for disabled people should be a priority of the strategy for the new programming period.
The European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIF) are the second biggest part of the EU budget. For 2014-2020, these Funds aim, amongst others, to improve accessibility, fight poverty and social exclusion, and increase education and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities in the EU. Representative organisations of persons with disabilities and the disabled people themselves needed to be consulted, involved and have received support.