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#Disability strategy for the next decade: EU should lead way in promoting progressive policies says #EESC




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The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) held a high-level conference at which it brought together leading actors in disability policy to discuss the EU's new strategy in the field, which is in the making and is expected to have a profound effect on millions of EU citizens with disabilities in all spheres of life over the next decade.

The aim of the conference on 'Shaping the EU agenda for disability rights 2020-2030' was to present the EESC's recommendations and proposals for the new strategy, but also to offer a platform for exchange and input that will form part of the extensive consultations contributing to its preparation and finalisation by the European Commission in the early months of 2021.

The EESC's recommendations and proposals had already been put forward in its own-initiative opinion adopted in December.


"With the new Commission and Parliament and the new budget programming period, this is an ideal moment for shaping a new strategy for people with disabilities. With the delivery of its opinion, the EESC was the first institution to contribute to the debate the Commission has opened on this topic," said EESC Vice President for Communication Isabel Cano Aguilar, opening the conference.

Presenting the EESC's proposals, the rapporteur for the EESC opinion, Yannis Vardakastanis, who is also the president of the European Disability Forum, said the new agenda should be much more comprehensive and ambitious than the one currently in place.

The EESC called for the new strategy to be fully aligned with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the European Pillar of Social Rights. Full implementation should be ensured by putting pressure on member states, through the European Semester, to develop disability strategies of their own.


The implementation of the UNCRPD must also be monitored at EU level by establishing disability focal points in all directorates-general of the Commission, in the agencies and in other institutions, with the focal point in the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers taking the lead. Intensive inter-institutional co-operation should be encouraged, with particular emphasis on setting up a working group on disability in the European Council.

Disability equality issues should be mainstreamed in all EU policies and the EU agenda should foster the perception of disability as part of human diversity, ditching the medical or charitable approach to persons with disabilities.

Vardakastanis stressed the importance of giving a voice to disability organisations when it came to designing and implementing policies under the disability agenda.

"'Nothing about us without us' is not a slogan, but a way of life and a form of emancipation. The strong message of our opinion is that we need to make disability discrimination a thing of the past!" he said,  adding that the opinion was based on a very firm belief that "the EU has to be a leading region in the world in promoting progressive disability equality policies", both internally and globally.

The conference brought together experts and representatives of European and international institutions who are leading the debate on the new strategy.

Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said the Commission would base the new agenda on the results of the ongoing evaluation of the current strategy, bringing greater fairness to the daily lives of citizens with disabilities.

"This Commission is about a Union of Equality. In her political guidelines, President Ursula von der Leyen put unprecedented emphasis on social fairness and equality. For the very first time, equality is a portfolio in its own right," she maintained.

The conference focused in particular on areas where discrimination of people with disabilities is the most prevalent, such as employment, accessibility, social inclusion, education, and mobility. The importance of developing assistive technologies that are affordable and accessible for all was also singled out as a priority.

Speakers drew attention to the gaps identified in the current EU strategy, such as a lack of consistent and comparable data on disability and the absence of a cross-sectoral approach in the EU, something that is perhaps best illustrated by the failure to mainstream the rights of women and girls with disabilities into EU gender policy.

"The disability strategy that is now in place entirely 'forgot about' women with disabilities. This needs to be rectified. We need to recognise issues such as health, forced sterilisation and coerced abortion as new forms of discrimination. We need to mention how difficult for them is to work, how hard for them is to access justice," said MEP Rosa Estaràs Ferragut.

The risk of poverty and social exclusion is exponentially increasing for individuals with disabilities, making social protection and access to care and support immensely important.

"Poverty, for people with disabilities, is an inevitable consequence of political choices and an explicit denial of fundamental human rights, brought about by political systems, systems which we can make fairer, more compassionate and more representative of our European values," said Leo Williams of the European Anti-Poverty Network.

Lucie Susova of the European Trade Union Confederation mentioned the importance of including representatives of persons with disabilities in collective bargaining in the workplace.

With buildings, public spaces and transport remaining inaccessible to Europeans with disabilities in many places, the EESC proposed setting up an EU Access Board that would make sure EU laws on accessibility are fully respected.

David Capozzi of the US Access Board spoke about the situation in the United States, where due to stringent laws such as the ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act), and huge fines for non-compliance, "disability advocates are not waiting for better access".

For example, before the ADA was passed, only 40% of fixed route buses were accessible, compared to 100% today. The ADA now requires all new rail stations and bus stops to be accessible as well, Capozzi said via videoconference. The city of Chicago was recently sued for having only 11 intersections with pedestrian signals accessible to the visually impaired out of 2,672 intersections with pedestrian signals for people who can see.

The Commission expects to complete the evaluation of the current strategy by July 2020 and, on the basis of the draft agenda, to then hold formal consultations on the new strategy, to be conducted by the Commission in cooperation with other institutions and partners. Once all the feedback has been collected, it will issue the Communication on the new disability strategy within the first three months of 2021.


EESC welcomes EU Disability Rights Strategy but identifies weaknesses that should be addressed



The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hails the new EU Disability Rights Strategy as a step forward in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The Strategy has taken on board many of the suggestions proposed by the EESC, the European disability movement and civil society. The proposals include full harmonisation of the new agenda and strengthened EU-level supervision of its application. The EESC is, however, concerned about the watering down of the binding measures and hard law implementing the Strategy.

At its plenary session held on 7 July, the EESC adopted the opinion Strategy on the rights of persons with disabilities, in which it gave its take on the European Commission's new strategy, set to improve the lives of some 100 million Europeans with disabilities over the next decade.

Despite describing the new strategy as laudable and more ambitious than its predecessor, the EESC was concerned about the prospects of its sound implementation. It also deplored the absence of any concrete and specific measures to end discrimination against women and girls with disabilities.


"The Disability Rights Strategy can advance the rights of persons with disabilities in the EU and has potential to achieve real change, but this depends entirely on how well it is implemented and how ambitious the individual actions are. It has taken on board proposals from the EESC and the disability movement. However, it lacks ambition in binding legislation," said the rapporteur for the opinion, Ioannis Vardakastanis.

"We need to turn words into deeds. If the European Commission and the Member States are not ambitious in pushing for actions that challenge the status quo, the Strategy could well fall short of the expectations of around 100 million persons with disabilities in the EU," he warned.

The EU Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) should be strongly linked to the EU Disability Rights Strategy and help persons with disabilities to recover from the effects of the pandemic, as they were among the worst hit. The link with the implementation and monitoring of the Action Plan for the EU Pillar of Social Rights should also be ensured and maximised, the EESC said in the opinion.


Sufficient human and financial resources should be provided for the current monitoring system for EU actions relating to the UNCRPD. The EESC strongly recommended that the European Commission look at how EU institutions and Member States can cooperate to better include people with disabilities by reviewing the existing Declaration of Competences and ratifying the Optional Protocol to the UNCRPD. These steps will give the EU a more decisive say in Member States' compliance with the UNCRPD provisions. The Commission must also be resolute in opposing plans for investments that go against the UNCRPD, such as investments in institutional care settings.

The EESC called for specific actions addressing the needs of women and girls with disabilities through a flagship initiative in the second half of the EU Disability Rights Strategy period in order to ensure that the gender dimension was included. The focus on women should include a dimension of gender violence and women as informal carers of relatives with disabilities.

The EESC was pleased to see the proposal for a resource centre called AccessibleEU, one of the flagship initiatives of the new strategy, although it fell short of the EESC's request for an EU Access Board with broader competences. The objective of AccessibleEU would be to bring together national authorities responsible for implementing and enforcing accessibility rules and accessibility experts and professionals, and monitor the implementation of EU laws providing for accessibility. The Commission needs to be clear and transparent about how it plans to fund and staff this agency, and how it will make sure that persons with disabilities are represented, the EESC stressed.

The EESC strongly endorses the flagship initiative on the EU Disability Card and believes it has the potential to foster great change. However, it regrets that there is as yet no commitment on how to ensure it is recognised by the Member States. The Committee stresses the need for the Disability Card to be implemented by means of a regulation, which would make it directly applicable and enforceable throughout the EU.

People with disabilities should be given the possibility to play a full role in the political life of their communities.The EESC supports the plan for a guide on good electoral practice addressing the participation of persons with disabilities in the electoral process in order to guarantee their political rights.

It is crucial to focus on good-quality jobs for persons with disabilities, especially in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The EESC stresses that the main goal is not just higher employment rates, but also quality employment that allows people with disabilities to improve their social circumstances through work. The EESC suggests including indicators on the quality of employment of persons with disabilities.

The EESC also calls on the disability movement to be proactive and to push for each and every action of this Strategy to deliver on what it promises. Social partners and civil society organisations should fully support the implementation of the new Strategy. It is not the Strategy itself that will deliver real change for persons with disabilities, but rather the strength of each of its components over the coming decade, the EESC concluded.

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Equality: 12th edition of EU Access City Award open for applications



The 12th Access City Award competition is now open for applications. The award rewards cities that have made particular efforts to be accessible and inclusive for persons with disabilities. EU cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants can apply until 8 September 2021. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners will receive prizes of €150,000, €120,000 and €80,000 respectively. Because 2021 is the European Year of Rail, the Commission will give a special mention to a city that has made outstanding efforts to make its train stations accessible for all.

Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli said: “Several cities across the EU are leading the way in creating more accessible spaces. With the EU Access City Award we reward these efforts and make them more visible. All of us have a responsibility to make Europe fully accessible. This is why accessibility is one of the priorities in the EU's new Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, presented in March.”

Last year's winner of the Access City Award was Jönköping in Sweden. The award-winners will be announced at the European Day of Persons with Disabilities conference on 3 December 2021. For more information on the award and how to apply, please visit the Access City Award 2022 webpage.


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A new ambitious EU Disability Strategy for 2021-2030



Following Parliament’s recommendations, the European Commission adopted an ambitious post-2020 disability strategy. Discover its priorities. Society 

The European Parliament called for an inclusive society in which the rights of people living with disabilities are protected and where there is no discrimination.

In June 2020, Parliament set out its priorities for a new post-2020 EU Disability Strategy, building upon the European Disability Strategy for 2010-2020.


In March 2021, the Commission adopted the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 encompassing Parliament’s main recommendations:

  • The mainstreaming of the rights of all people living with disabilities into all policies and areas.
  • Recovery and mitigation measures to avoid people with disabilities getting disproportionally affected by health crises such as COVID-19.
  • Equal access for people with disabilities to health care, employment, public transport, housing.
  • The implementation and further development of the EU disability card pilot project, which allows for the mutual recognition of disabilities in some EU countries.
  • People with disabilities, their families and organisations were part of the dialogue and will be part of the process of implementation.

People living with disabilities in Europe: facts and figures  

  • There are an estimated 87 million people with disabilities in the EU.
  • The employment rate of people with disabilities (aged 20-64) stands at 50.8%, compared to 75% for people without disabilities. 
  • 28.4% of people with disabilities in the EU are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to 17.8% of the general population.  
A differently-abled man working in an amputee shop for production of prosthetic extremity parts.©Hedgehog94/AdobeStock
A man working in an amputee shop on the production of a prosthetic extremity parts.©Hedgehog94/AdobeStock  

EU disability measures so far

The European Disability Strategy was put in place to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 

  • An international legally binding human rights treaty setting minimum standards to protect the rights of people with disabilities 
  • The EU and all member states have ratified it 
  • Both EU and member states are obliged to implement the obligations, according to their competences 

Among the concrete initiatives launched thanks to the European Disability Strategy is the European Accessibility Act, which ensures that more products and services like smartphones, tablets, ATMs or e-books are accessible to people with disabilities.

The directive on web accessibility means people with disabilities have easier access to online data and services online because websites and apps operated by public sector institutions, such as hospitals, courts or universities, are required to be accessible.

The Erasmus+ student exchange programme promotes the mobility of participants with disabilities.

EU rules also ensure improved access to transport and better passenger rights for people living with disabilities.

Find out more on EU policies for a more social Europe.

Find out more 

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