As 2020 draws to a close and we mark the European Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, disabled people across Europe are ready to welcome a new European strategy, which will hopefully be reflected in every policy area for the next decade.
The upcoming Strategy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is designed to iron out the existing inadequacies and divergences across EU Member States, and mutual recognition of disability is being promoted in order to achieve this.
The objective of the new strategy is for disability to become mainstream in every aspect of life, so that every disabled citizen in the EU enjoys full participation in the society they live in.
A “participation” that is going to follow them in any Member State that they might choose to live in. This is clearly something that was not achieved by the previous strategy.
The importance of employment and education is highlighted once again, but this time it is clearly linked to the commitments set out by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its social view of disability.
“There is a general consensus that disabled persons are more prone to poverty, discrimination, illiteracy or abuse. These challenges will most likely worsen during the pandemic”
At this moment in time, some EU funding is still being channeled towards segregation measures, including institutions dedicated to disabled children and working environments exclusively for disabled people.
All these schemes were considered beneficial to us disabled Europeans, but they actually prevented our inclusion and have led to discrimination.
In 2020, disabled people all across Europe are still struggling with lack of accessibility in the built environment and transportation. These problems were supposed to be easy to solve but they are still contributing to exclusion in education and employment.
And they have cast a doubt on our ability to deal with even more complex issues, such as lack of independence or issues related to persons’ legal capacity.
I strongly believe that disabled European citizens have very different experiences depending on which country they live in. For example, there are still Member States with no legislation for Independent Living, such as my home country, Greece.
Others have almost done nothing to address deinstitutionalisation; states where disabled persons, even children, are being held in institutions where they are not only deprived of their rights, but they are also being abused.
States where they cannot make use of public transportation infrastructure, where they cannot access any educational institution, a job or even their homes, and where the only alternative is special segregated settings.
I hope that the new strategy will eventually put an end to all the above. The first step therefore is to establish a common understanding of disability, independent living, deinstitutionalisation, accessibility and inclusion across Europe.
There is a general consensus that disabled persons are more prone to poverty, discrimination, illiteracy or abuse. These challenges will most likely worsen during the pandemic.
In addition, we should be mindful that disabled women face an even higher ratio of unemployment and violence.
I hope that the new strategy will take the lessons learnt from the pandemic into account and encourage the Member States to adopt the necessary measures to rise to the challenge.
“Because of my example and the support of the European Parliament, I am able to be here and actively shape EU laws to the benefit of all European citizens”
I am also very concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on those living in large or small-scale institutions or group homes of any type. Such residents have an increased danger of infection and death, which was dramatically evidenced during the first wave of the pandemic.
As a result, the need to deinstitutionalise is now more urgent than ever. In Greece, our Government has taken the initiative to replace institutionalisation by living independently in the community.
And because of the pandemic, decision-making is now taking place via teleconferencing, which has increased the opportunity for severely impaired disabled people, even those who are in an institution, to actively participate.
In a country with no personal assistance and inadequate accessibility, this would not be the case with face-to-face meetings.
In a country with no legislation on personal assistance, it would not be possible to run an election campaign and win a seat among other non-disabled persons. But now, because of my example and the support of the European Parliament, I am able to be here and actively shape EU laws to the benefit of all European citizens.
Let us always remember that we live in an era where the way of living is complex and rapidly changing.
Nevertheless, we need to brace ourselves for the future and make sure that no one left behind. This is something I hold dear to my heart and it is a key priority of mine during my mandate.
I hope sincerely that we all stay safe during these challenging times and that the EU will get stronger.