The EU’s current anti-discrimination proposals are too weak when it comes to disability rights and require strong action from the Swedish Presidency, European Disability Forum (EDF) Director Carlotta Besozzi told EURACTIV in an interview.
Besozzi spent last week at the United Nations in New York, ahead of worldwide discussions on disability rights, due later this month.
Her visit came in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s landmark decision in July that the US sign up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
While the steps taken by the US are surely positive, the EDF director gave a mixed approval to the outgoing (2004-2009) European Commission in terms of its promoting a progressive disability agenda.
“I think we had a lot of positive steps in the area of transport and passengers’ rights, that’s definitely been one of the big plusses,” she said.
On the other hand, the EDF is not satisfied with current proposals for anti-discrimination legislation, finding its provisions on disability rights restricted, lacking specifics and “watered down” by previous EU presidencies.
However, Sweden’s past track record means that its current EU Council Presidency is seen by the disability rights lobby as a great hope for improving the existing proposals.
“It could happen,” says Besozzi, “that the Commission is asked to redraw it or produce a new proposal, which might be a preferable option to us if the final text is not satisfactory”.
However, “we still hope that the current directive can be improved, particularly if the Swedish presidency works in this direction,” she said.
Financial crisis hits people with disabilities harder
As regards the global recession, Besozzi believes that people with disabilities have taken a double-hit: on the one hand, companies – particularly SMEs – are increasingly lobbying for loopholes allowing them to rescind previous commitments, while on the other hand, “the impression we have is that when it’s a difficult climate for finding a job, it’s even more difficult for people with disabilities as they have to overcome more prejudice, and companies are less willing to make adjustments in the workplace to accommodate them”.
As a result, the EDF will push strongly for global recovery packages to include stronger clauses on disability commitments at global UN talks later this month.