Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared the goal of a “Union of Equal Rights.” A look at Germany and France on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day shows there is still a long way to go. EURACTIV Germany reports.
It is estimated that more than 100 million people with disabilities live in the EU. Many of them are “still denied their basic human rights,” the European Parliament stated in mid-June in a proposal for a post-2020 EU strategy for people with disabilities.
With the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, the EU set itself the goal of “enabling people with disabilities to exercise their full rights and participate fully in society and the European economy.”
According to the European Parliament, however, this strategy has “only made limited progress” to date. Disabled people in the EU still suffer from higher unemployment rates, social exclusion, poverty and discrimination.
Action needed on accessibility and participation in Germany
In Germany, where around 7.8 million citizens have a severe disability, people with disabilities are most likely to feel discriminated against in the area of employment, according to a survey conducted by the country’s anti-discrimination office in 2015.
The unemployment rate for severely disabled people in 2018 was almost twice as high (11.2%) as the overall rate of 6.5%.
This comes despite the requirement that private and public employers with more than 20 employees have at least 5% of employees with disabilities. More than a third of all companies instead opt to pay compensation fees, according to the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency.
Germany must also make progress in terms of accessibility. Between 35% and 50% of all towns and cities are estimated to be wheelchair-accessible or only partially wheelchair-accessible, according to a pamphlet published by Sozialhelden, an association that campaigns for social justice in Germany.
Another survey shows that only one in five German train stations are fully accessible.
“Germany already achieved some on the way to the accessibility,” asserted Karl Finke, member of the executive committee of the association Self-Help for Physically Handicapped People (BSK). “But of course there is still a lot to do in terms of accessibility of services, information, communication and means of transport.”
It is particularly important, however, to involve the people concerned in decisions and implementation.
“The usual ‘we talk about you without asking you’ is water under the bridge,” explained Finke. “We need more participation and decision-making at eye level, both in Germany and in Europe. Because the political incapacitation of disabled people is also a form of discrimination.”
Disability the main reason for discrimination in France
There is also a need for action in France, which has around 12 million disabled people, including not only severe disabilities but also so-called ‘invisible disabilities’.
“For three years now, disability has been at the top of the list of reasons for discrimination here,” explained Pascale Ribes. For the administrator of the French Association of Paralysed People (APF France Handicap), which represents and defends people with disabilities, this is “systemic discrimination.”
In France too, disabled people are about twice as likely to be unemployed as the rest of the population. In 2019 the rate was 18%.
And when it comes to accessibility, the country lags far behind European ambitions and legal requirements: nine out of 10 people with disabilities encounter difficulties in getting around on a daily basis, according to a survey published in January by APF France Handicap.
39% of respondents were dissatisfied with the accessibility of public offices. For access to doctors’ offices and schools, the figure was as high as 43%, and for stores, bars and restaurants, over 50%.
Almost three-quarters of all respondents expressed negative opinions about accessibility in public spaces (72%).
President Emmanuel Macron had declared the issue of disability to be a priority at the start of his presidency in 2017, but “in terms of accessibility, we have made little progress in France in recent years,” said Ribes.
However, he has high hopes for the EU’s future strategy for people with disabilities, which is expected to be unveiled in spring 2021, saying it is important “to finally put the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into practice and to guarantee all persons with disabilities access to their fundamental rights.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]