PM+: UN disability review should be a wake-up call for EU policymakers

Written by Luk Zelderloo on 28 September 2015 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

EU leaders need to implement a more comprehensive disability approach within the EU legislative framework, argues Luk Zelderloo.

The UN recently published its final recommendations to the EU on how to further implement the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD). The UN’s conclusions - following its legal and policy framework assessment - are a clear wake-up call for EU and its member states.

The UN committee highlighted its concerns over the lack of a cross-cutting, comprehensive disability approach within the legislative framework, recommending that the EU undertakes full harmonisation with the provisions of the CRPD.

Also recommended was a mid-term assessment of the European disability strategy (EDS). This is particularly needed and must be accomplished in cooperation with stakeholders. Adopted in 2010, the EDS is the main EU policy framework providing guidance for member states on the implementation of the CRPD but crucially it doesn't fully recognise the role of support services, which should also be involved in the upcoming evaluation and development of concrete benchmarks and statistics.


Disability support services currently employ eight million people in Europe, many of whom represent a lever for change in the sector towards a human rights-based approach. However, this and the viability of high quality services have been threatened by austerity measures and budgetary cuts at national levels.

The UN convention recognises the need to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and freedoms by all persons with disabilities, including those who require more intensive support, in all aspects of life - political, economic, social, cultural, and civil - on an equal basis with others. It is not only about people with disabilities, but also about the inclusiveness of the society we want to live in. This requires an essential element: the involvement of society as a whole.

Several of the UN’s recommendations point out precisely those aspects of life where the involvement of society is a must, such as the right to live independently, the right to work and the right to education. For all three, the EU needs to promote training among professionals and staff on the convention’s true significance, while monitoring the use of structural and investment funds that are aimed at ensuring compliance with the CRPD when they are used to develop support services.

The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD), represents over 11,000 support service provider organisations across Europe. We are currently reinforcing our cross-sectorial cooperation efforts following the adoption of our “Reaching Out” strategy in 2014.

So far we have organised two cross-sectorial annual conferences on housing and employment and one more on inclusive education is in the pipeline.

According to UNESCO’s estimates, 98 per cent of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school. The latest Eurostat figures show that in the EU, only one disabled person out of 10 aged between 15 and 64 participated in any education and training. These figures show that there is still a long way to go in addressing the exclusion of people with disabilities. Tackling these barriers has to be achieved with the cooperation of all involved stakeholders.

Several organisations supporting people with disabilities have already developed inclusive programmes across Europe in line with the CRPD and will present their experiences during our upcoming  annual conference entitled “Inclusive teaching programmes: let’s develop them together”. These cases should serve as inspiring models for authorities and decision-makers from across all levels of governance. The EU, and also, we in society, have four years to take measures in line with the UN’s recommendations before the next 2019 assessment. We must act together.

About the author

Luk Zelderloo is Secretary General of the European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD)

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