Disability ministers call for ‘more just and inclusive’ EU

A total of 87 million people aged 16-64 have a disability in Europe, which according to Eurostat corresponds to 17.9% of the population. [SeventyFour/Shutterstock]

The EU needs to take additional steps to ensure people with disabilities have greater access to jobs and rights across the bloc, Sophie Cluzel, the French Secretary of State in charge of people with disabilities, told her European counterparts in Paris on Wednesday (9 March).  EURACTIV France reports.

The ministerial conference was held within the French EU Council presidency framework, which has “universal accessibility” as one of its objectives, Cluzel also said. Although the EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020 has accounted for “major progress”, Cluzel wants to build on this progress.

“We must go further to achieve a more inclusive, fairer Europe, especially in terms of access to employment and rights for people with disabilities,” Cluzel told a press conference on Wednesday (9 March).

“Despite the progress made, people with disabilities still face significant barriers in exercising their rights,” said EU Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli, who also attended the Paris event.

Earlier in the day, the ministers worked on improving the living conditions of people with disabilities in the EU as part of the Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030.

The new strategy for the decade, approved by the Commission in March of last year, aims in particular to guarantee fundamental rights, equal opportunities and freedom of movement for people with disabilities “irrespective of their sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, age or sexual orientation”.

According to Eurostat, a total of 87 million people aged 16-64 have a disability in Europe, which corresponds to 17.9% of the population. “Lack of accessibility, multiple and repeated discrimination and prejudice hinder their access to quality jobs or education,” according to Dalli.

Discussions also focused on the rights of people with disabilities, their independence in society and non-discrimination.

French disability minister: people with disabilities must engage in politics

EU disability ministers are meeting in Paris on Wednesday (9 March) to take stock of the EU’s disability strategy and exchange best practices. EURACTIV France spoke to the French secretary of state in charge of people with disabilities who initiated the meeting within the French EU Council presidency framework.

EU disability card and autism 

Two key measures that aim to guarantee the independence of people with disabilities will be implemented by 2023. These include the EU disability card and the accessibility resource centre known as “AccessbileEU”, which aims to improve “the coherence and accessibility of information on disability”, Dalli explained.

Eight EU countries – Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Malta, Romania and Slovenia – have since 2016 tested the EU disability card.

EU disability ministers want the card to be implemented across all 27 member states. However, EU countries would still be free to decide who is eligible for the card based on the “national definition of disability” and the procedure for obtaining it.

On education, Cluzel welcomed the Erasmus + programme for 2021-2027, which provides additional costs for students with disabilities and their carers.

The day was also marked by “a European perspective on autism disorders”, said Cluzel. Each year, around 5% of children in the world are born with a neurodevelopmental disorder.

Initiatives already exist in Europe, such as the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), which focuses on personalised medicine approaches for autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

“We need to go further and involve people and families at every stage of research, putting them at the centre of the approaches and methodologies chosen”, said Cluzel, failing, however, to mention any new projects.

Employment access

Making the labour market more inclusive, in light of the Commission’s employment package for people with disabilities, is another topic on the agenda.

“In the European Union, only half of the people with disabilities have access to the labour market”, said Dalli, while 75% of non-disabled people have a job.

But some initiatives already exist. Duo Day, for example, allows a disabled person to join a company for a day and share the daily life of an employee and has allowed 17% of those joining the programme in 2021 to obtain a job.

But according to Cluzel, there are still “too many obstacles”, such as stereotypes, lack of training and lack of accessibility.

“An inclusive labour market – offering opportunities to all and quality work – is our goal. Coordinated action at both national and European level will be essential to achieve these goals”, said Commissioner Dalli.

The EU Commissioner called on member states to achieve more significant inclusion in the world of work by 2024, per the UN International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ICRPD) ratified in March 2010.

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[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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