A new journey for disability rights. The European Disability Forum welcomes the new Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030

A new journey for disability rights. The European Disability Forum welcomes the new Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030

Today is a landmark date for the European disability movement. The European Commission has published the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030. This document outlines proposals and areas of work aiming at improving the living conditions of 100 million persons with disabilities through the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

EDF welcomes that the Strategy is based on the CRPD and recalls the recommendations received by the EU from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2015. It clearly highlights priorities in the form of actions and flagship initiatives. While some actions are very concrete, with a clear timeframe; other objectives are more aspirational and will need to be further elaborated in the form of an action plan, giving dates for all actions in order to implement the Strategy in full.

We particularly appreciate:

  • The recognition of the dreadful situation faced by persons with disabilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic and foreseen actions in supporting Member States on the deinstitutionalisation of persons with disabilities, and strengthened coordination in healthcare reforms at national level.
  • The proposal for an EU-wide Disability Card in 2023 to facilitate the free movement of persons with disabilities.
  • The preparation of independent living guidance for Member States in 2023.
  • A quality framework for social services to persons with disabilities in 2024.
  • The initiative to increase the employment of persons with disabilities within the EU institutions.
  • The commitment to involve organisations of persons with disabilities in the Strategy’s implementation.

We also value elements which are in line with the proposals made by EDF, although these will need to be further developed. For instance:

  • The creation of the “AccessibleEU” resource centre by 2022 is positive. However, it falls short of the potential that a new EU agency on accessibility (the EU Access Board) could have had and we hope to work within the Disability Platform to ensure AccessibleEU is an effective driver of accessibility.
  • The guide of good electoral practice to ensure political rights of persons with disabilities in 2023 will definitely be helpful for Member States, although Parliament and Council will need to complete this by amending the Electoral Law to ensure the right to vote of all persons with disabilities.
  • The call to Member States to unblock the Equal Treatment Directive, proposed 13 years ago is still relevant. COVID-19 reminds us every day of the lack of protection against discrimination persons with disabilities face in healthcare. However, the Strategy falls short of mentioning any alternative plan to ensure non-discrimination across the EU in all fields.
  • The recognition of the specific situation of persons with disabilities experiencing multiple forms of discrimination on the grounds of, for instance, their gender, age, sexual orientation or ethnic background, would also need to be better reflected and addressed through targeted actions.

Finally, we also welcome the creation of the Disability Platform, bringing together responsible bodies at national and EU level to implement this Strategy. We appreciate the commitment to appoint “disability coordinators” in all institutions and agencies to ensure an adequate mainstreaming of the CRPD and interinstitutional coordination.

EDF has been calling for the establishment of a CRPD unit to ensure coordination of the CRPD at the EU level; this CRPD unit is still missing from the EU’s approach. While the strategy does pay attention to mainstreaming (such as committing to systematic references to the CRPD in all relevant policy fields or staff training on disability rights), without strengthened human and financial resources within the Commission, or the establishment of a strong and influential CRPD focal point, it is hard to see how this will be achieved.

It must also be noted just how instrumental the creation of the role of Commissioner for Equality has been in making this new Strategy a reality. EDF would like to thank Commissioner Helena Dalli for the rigorous approach in consulting organisations of persons with disabilities, and the extent to which our ideas have been reflected in the final Strategy.

The EDF President, Yannis Vardakastanis stated:

“Today is the beginning. We will closely examine the Disability Rights Strategy and we will work to ensure its implementation in alignment with the CRPD. Our members will now carefully examine every element of the strategy.

We will not be limited by the Strategy and when new issues arise, we will raise them. If there are gaps and shortcomings, it is our duty to highlight them and to campaign for stronger actions at the EU and national level. It is will very important to shape the new initiatives and structures so they become inclusive and impactful and this will be achieved only through the full and meaningful involvement of persons with disabilities, and the allocation of human and financial resources.

Our work will not be achieved while millions of Europeans with disabilities stay at home waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine, while millions live in institutions, while we are oppressed by poverty and exclusion, while we face discrimination and denial of our rights. Until every person with disabilities can exercise their right to vote, their right to free movement in a barrier-free Europe, where they can live where and with whom they choose, with adequate support. Never before has our work to build a Europe of Equality been more urgent.”

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Photo credit: European Commission