This is the fifth of a series of interviews with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). In this interview, we spoke with MEP Stelios Kympouropoulos about ways of making the EU institutions fully accessible and inclusive for persons with disabilities. He also shared his thoughts on the EU Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030 and the obstacles to deinstitutionalization. As one of the new co-chairs of the disability intergroup, he told us about his vision for a unique, united, strong, and more visible and integrated disability intergroup in the EU institutions.
Question: You coordinated a letter to EP President to request to keep the hybrid mode of participation in the Parliament as a means of reasonable accommodation for MEPs and EP staff with disabilities. What other elements are needed in EU institutions to make them fully accessible and inclusive for persons with disabilities?
Answer: The accessibility of the built environment in EU institutions is as important as the hybrid mode of participation, as it leads to equality by resolving any existing lack of accessibility. Disabled MEPs and staff do not have the ease to deny participating in unequal terms and conditions. The people have elected me, and I ought to be their voice, even if I have to speak while being unable to reach the rostrum during the plenary. I have to represent them everywhere, although I have to surpass numerous obstacles by entering inaccessible buildings. Sign languages, for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, have been officially recognized for many years now. Nevertheless, there is still not any sign language interpreter (at least for international sign language) in every plenary session that takes place in the European Parliament. EU institutions should set an example for society to follow and not the opposite.
Question: Independent living is one of the top priorities of the new EU Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030. What do you think are the next steps that the EU should take to support deinstitutionalisation and independent living of persons with disabilities in the community?
Answer: There is an immense obstacle in replacing institutionalisation with community-based services that promote independent living as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and its general comment no 5. That is the absence of clear definitions of the terms concerning independent living and deinstitutionalisation. The EU has not yet adopted a definition of what constitutes an institution or how community-based services differ from «one solution fits all» services. Unfortunately, this results in misplaced EU funding. The EU continues to support the segregation of disabled people, as each Member-State has the opportunity to misinterpret the EU strategy, as well as the CRPD, and use EU funds towards the opposite direction of independent living. The involvement of disabled persons and their organisations in policy-making remains insufficient while EU mechanisms have to support it. These are the next steps that should have been taken a lot of time ago.
Question: As co-chair of the Disability Intergroup, what kind of activities and actions you would take to increase the visibility and influence of the intergroup? How can the Intergroup work more closely with representative organisations of persons with disabilities to bring their voices to the EU decision-making?
Answer: The role of the Disability Intergroup in EU disability policymaking should be more incentive. We could take advantage of the diversity within the composition of the intergroup and every associated organisation, in order to become even more inclusive. That action would offer more expertise to the intergroup through a unique, united, strong, and more visible presence. With a view on promoting the collaboration of the Intergroup’s members and representative organisations, more events should be hosted, giving a chance to everyone to become visible. In addition to that, the Disability Intergroup has to participate or organize mainstream activities and actions, by introducing the factor of the disability to more policy areas. In any case, as a co-chair of the Disability Intergroup along with the other members, I consider it crucial to unite our efforts for the Disability Intergroup to have a more integrated role in the EU institutions.