Europe’s disability strategy is ‘great step forward’

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Europe’s leading disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has welcomed the European Union’s (EU) new 10-year disability strategy as a “great step” for disabled people.

The European Disability Strategy was published this week by the European Commission and sets out to provide a “framework for action” at European and national level until 2020, including more than 160 “key actions” over the next five years.

The European Disability Forum (EDF), which represents an estimated 80 million disabled people across the EU, said it welcomed the action across eight areas, including accessibility, participation in society, equality, employment, education and training, and health.

Among measures EDF welcomed were plans for a European Accessibility Act, aimed at improving access to goods and services; a proposal to ensure all public sector websites are accessible by 2015; measures to give disabled people the right to free movement and residence across the EU; and a promise to use EU funds to improve accessibility.

The strategy also pledges to use EU funds to support disabled people to move from institutional to community-based care.

And it promises to promote inclusive education and lifelong learning for disabled pupils and students.

But among its criticisms of the strategy, EDF said there should have been a greater emphasis on the need – as outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – for EU member states to consult and involve DPOs when making decisions that will affect disabled people.

And EDF said all relevant European laws – and not just employment legislation, as the strategy says – should be checked to ensure they comply with the UN convention when being reviewed.

Yannis Vardakastanis, EDF’s president, said: “The disability strategy is a great step for persons with disabilities: it is more ambitious than the last action plan [the EU Disability Action Plan for 2003-2010]and it includes a lot of our proposals.

“If implemented, the strategy could be of benefit to 80 million Europeans with disabilities.”

European parliament president Jerzy Buzek has promised EDF a meeting every two years between the presidents of the commission and the parliament and disabled people’s organizations to assess progress on the strategy.

An EDF spokeswoman said its focus would now be on ensuring the strategy and its actions were implemented, particularly over the next five years.

Viviane Reding, EU commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, said her goal was “a truly barrier-free Europe” for disabled people by 2020.

17 November 2010

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