MEPs call for strengthening rights of people with disabilities

There are currently around 87 million disabled people in the EU and "37% of EU citizens aged 15 and over have physical and sensory disabilities," according to the report. [wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock]

Lawmakers in the European Parliament overwhelmingly adopted a report to protect people with disabilities on Wednesday (6 October). MEPs agreed there is still a lot to be done as disabled people continue to face many barriers and discrimination across the bloc. EURACTIV France reports.

The report, which originated from the Parliament’s petitions committee (PETI), was adopted with 579 votes in favour, 12 against and 92 abstentions.

“People with disabilities face many barriers and discrimination that prevent them from enjoying their freedom and fundamental rights,” the report’s rapporteur, Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba (S&D), told the European Parliament earlier this week.

Saliba, who spoke to the Parliament on Monday evening, said the status of people with disabilities is not recognised in EU member states today, adding that this represents a real obstacle to the “right to freedom of movement”. The report is thus calling for the mutual recognition of the status of disabled people between EU countries.

But the topic is nothing new. In the EU’s disability rights strategy for 2021-2030, Brussels committed to creating an EU disability card in 2023.

More than just an administrative document, the card “is a matter of pride, dignity and recognition,” French socialist MEP Sylvie Guillaume MEP (S&D) told EURACTIV France.

While the card will probably not mean much in the immediate daily life of people with disabilities, it will allow them to be considered “as a population that can also benefit from common rights in the EU and from rights that are specific to them”, Guillaume explained.

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Rights of disabled stuck in 1950

There are currently around 87 million disabled people in the EU, while some “37% of EU citizens aged 15 and over have physical and sensory disabilities,” according to the report.

People with physical or mental disabilities face discrimination when it comes to access to public transport, education, and employment, among other things.

The debate on Monday was met with little opposition. “On my calendar, it says 2021, but the rights of disabled people are stuck in 1950”, said Renew MEP Abir Al-Sahlani.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit people with disabilities the hardest, she said, adding that in countries like Bulgaria and Romania, “the situation is getting worse” in terms of access to health care.

Green MEP Katrin Langensiepen criticised the Parliament’s own building, calling it a “disgrace”, after her colleague Stelios Kympouropoulos (EPP), who is in a wheelchair, could not reach the podium to give his speech.

Access to education

Education for all was also a major issue in the report, which stressed that “inclusive education creates the basis for an inclusive labour market”.

“Children with disabilities suffer from many barriers in their educational pathways,” said Saliba, citing children with autism as an example. “We need to improve the capacity of our education systems,” he continued.

This view was shared by Guillaume, who said making progress in the education system from an early age remains one of the best ways for these children to access university. This will enable them to “train themselves and not remain confined to jobs that are adapted to them,” she said.

“It is good that jobs are adapted for disabled people, but it is not naturally the objective of people to have adapted jobs”, Guillaume added.

In France, the issue is also being debated. With six months to go before the presidential elections, the Senate will hold a debate on Thursday afternoon (7 October) about whether the rights of people with disabilities are effective and respected.

“It is a question of general political will and concordance between the local, national and European levels”, Guillaume also said.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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