Letter to Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

To: Mr Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Schwarzenbergplatz 11, A-1040 Vienna, Austria

Subject: fundamental rights of persons with disabilities during COVID-19 and in COVID response and request for video meeting

Dear Mr. O’Flaherty,

On behalf of the European Disability Forum (EDF), the umbrella organisation of persons with disabilities defending the rights of more than 100 million persons with disabilities in the European Union, I am writing to you to first thank you for our constructive joint-work as members of the EU Monitoring Framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Ensuring that persons with disabilities are not left behind is particularly important in during this unprecedented time in our Union. This requires us to monitor closely the EU and national governments’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact on people. In that sense, we appreciated that there are references to people with disabilities in the first Bulletin on the coronavirus pandemic in the EU published by the Agency.

As the report of your agency demonstrates, persons with disabilities are being disproportionally impacted by the pandemic. While they face the same range of risks as the general population, those risks are compounded by many other issues:

  • disruption of disability services and support, in some cases, pre-existing health conditions which leave them more at risk of developing serious illness or dying,
  • being excluded from public health information and mainstream healthcare provision,
  • living in an inaccessible world where barriers to healthcare, goods and services are everywhere,
  • being disproportionately more likely to live in institutional settings, with all of the negative consequences this implies including limited choices, coercion, exposure to violence, heightened segregation and unavailability of legal remedies against discrimination and abuse.

Our members at national level reported several human rights violations such as the suspension of personal assistance required for independent living, denial to access to healthcare based on disability, and lack of access to inclusive education. In some countries, medical guidelines for the COVID 19 pandemic discriminate against persons with disabilities. We were also informed of neglect, abuse and lack of measures to combat the pandemic in segregated institutions. These are only few examples of violations of human rights, that the right of physical integrity and right to life of persons with disabilities.

Reading the first bulletin and country studies prepared by the Agency and its multidisciplinary research network, FRANET, we observed a gap between the information provided and the human rights violations happening on the ground experienced by our members. More accurate and detailed information could be collected by the systematic involvement of, and consultation with national representative organisations of persons with disabilities.  Meaningful participation of persons with disabilities, through their representative organisations is of course an obligation created by the CRPD in its Article 4.3.

In these circumstances, we call the FRA to systematically include persons with disabilities in its work on COVID-19. We recommend that the Agency, its contractors and research network always engage with EDF and EDF’s national members when monitoring the impact of COVID response on human rights. In particular, all data collected should be disaggregated by age, sex and disability. The FRA should also collect specific information on people living in segregated institutions as they are more at risk of facing abuses and lack of access to healthcare during and after the pandemic.

In order to work collaboratively together on the rights of persons with disabilities during and after the COVID 19 pandemic we would like to request a video call with you on this topic. We are at your disposal for any further information and we would like to thank you in advance for your time and consideration.


Yours sincerely,

Yannis Vardakastanis


European Disability Forum