Covid-19 and confinement measures have hit persons with disabilities particularly hard. This has occurred mostly due to the fact that governments around Europe have overlooked persons with disabilities and their needs in almost all areas of public and private life. There have also been major shortcomings in provision of essential services such as healthcare, community-based support services, and transport. For example, one of the services that was suspended once lockdown was imposed in France and Belgium, was assistance to rail passengers with disabilities. This is a violation of EU law and further limits the equal right to travel for persons with disabilities, who already encounter numerous accessibility and assistance-related barriers.
As countries are easing lockdown measures, public authorities and service providers are making decisions on increasing operation of transport, while trying to ensure that public health is not endangered by increased passenger flow and close personal contact.
We have drafted guidelines to help European and national policy-makers, local public authorities, representatives of transport operators, infrastructure managers, and related services, and other stakeholders ensure that full diversity of passengers are considered when developing and implementing covid-19 exit strategies in relation to all transport modes at city, regional, country and European-level. To avoid the mistakes made during confinement, which reinforced further marginalisation of persons with disabilities, we hope mentioned authorities and services will take full account of our recommendations.
Our main messages are:
- Equal right to travel by persons with disabilities is undebatable and enforced by EU law. This includes assistance during travel. Public health measures should not be justification to violate this right but instead should be developed and implemented in a way that ensures both right to travel and protection of health of passengers with disabilities.
- Accessibility of information, including related to obligations and rights of passengers, travel restrictions, before and during travel must be ensured for all passengers taking into consideration full diversity of passengers with disabilities. Information must be easy to find, clear and easy to understand. Accessibility of transport facilities and services must be ensured as well: this will be beneficial from public health perspective as well (think of an automatic door which you do not need to touch to open).
- Personal protective equipment must be provided to all passengers and transport staff, and hygiene measures must be accessible for persons with disabilities.
- Investment in and upgrading of training and accessibility must be continued to ensure achieved results are not lost due to funding cuts or priority shifts.
- Authorities and services must keep direct and continuous cooperation with organisations of persons with disabilities to ensure that interest of passengers with disabilities are dully considered in the development and implementation of all policies and measures.
See EDF Recommendations on exit measure for transport services in light of covid-19 for further explanations and details.