EU must stop discrimination against disabled persons
'One in six' European citizens is disabled, but the EU has yet to implement concrete and effective legislation for their integration, writes Marek Plura.
For many years, I tried to reach politicians on a different level and convince them to implement regulations to address the needs and rights of persons with disabilities. One of those politicians told me I would be more efficient if I engaged myself in the legislation process. It was then that I stood in my first election, initially at local level and then for the Polish parliament.
Work in the parliament was a challenge but at the same time, it gave me a lot of satisfaction. It put me in a position to apply my personal experience in order to introduce relevant changes for persons with disabilities and their families. In addition, my presence in the parliament and the fact that I regularly had to cooperate with the house's administration and overcome various obstacles proved a useful experience for all.
"Discrimination is very often caused not by a lack of good will, but a lack of imagination"
The ratification of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities by Poland and the EU was a milestone in my professional life. The convention paved the way for persons with disabilities to have better access to education, employment, transport and infrastructure, as well as enhancing their participation in political life by 2020. The ratification process was treated seriously in Poland. While preparing for this change, we introduced some essential regulations, such as the sign language act, voting facilitation – voting by a plenipotentiary or via letter – regulations giving easier access to studies for young persons with disabilities and introducing the function of an assistant of a person with disability, among other things.
Although the content of the European disability strategy is decent, it is also very general and, in my opinion, it lacks particular actions and goals. The fact that the European accessibility act has not been established yet is also a disappointment. I hope that the new European commission will fill the strategy with real content. I believe that it would be justified to introduce European standards in terms of democratic privileges, namely participation in elections. In the parliament, I would like to continue the work on the European charter for persons with disability. Such a document would enable certain facilities in many cities and countries – free transport, assistance or priority queuing. Introduction of the charter will contribute to higher mobility, education access, jobs abroad and much more.
I will also work on regulations to make air travel easier for persons using an electric wheelchair. At the moment, air travel is so difficult and risky – especially in terms of injury and wheelchair damage – that I travel to Poland by car, which takes me two whole days.
3 December is the international day of persons with disabilities. It is a perfect day to think about the implementation of the UN convention. We should ask ourselves, "Are we entitled to live with disability in modern Europe?" and, "How would you describe a shop where three steps in front of the entrance ensures people in wheelchairs are unable to enter? Isn't this "a shop for the ABLED"? "How would you describe an office where a deaf person cannot exercise their rights as no one speaks sign language? Wouldn't it be fairer to stick a note at the door saying 'no entry for the deaf'"? Discrimination is very often caused not by a lack of goodwill, but a lack of imagination. Creating a friendly world for disabled persons, in which we can all actively live, is not a whim or unnecessary expenditure.
One in six EU citizens is disabled. We cannot afford to waste the potential of these people.
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