European Day of Persons with Disabilities: Citizens’ rights should apply to all, including the right to petition, argues Alex Agius Saliba

EU needs need to make these rights as accessible as possible, says 'Protection of Persons with Disabilities through Petitions' Rapporteur
Alex Agius Saliba | Source: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Alex Agius Saliba

Alex Agius Saliba (MT, S&D) is the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the Digital Services Act Report

03 Dec 2021

Over the years, the European Parliament’s Petitions committee has received many important petitions on the protection of persons with disabilities in the EU.

The petitioners highlighted obstacles that persons with disabilities face in various fields, such as access to public transport, to the built environment, use of sign languages, financing or access to education and vocational training. Such petitions provide us with a clear; it is time for the EU to act.

There are approximately 87 million persons with disabilities in the EU. Their situation may vary from one Member State to another, but they are generally more likely to be exposed to social exclusion, poverty, illness and unemployment.

Despite all of our common agreed values and treaties, people with disabilities continue to face many barriers and discrimination in everyday life, which prevent them from enjoying EU fundamental freedoms and rights.

“Persons with disabilities have the same rights as persons without, and it is our duty to respond to our citizens’ concerns when they voice their concerns in their petitions”

To address these realities, for the past year I have worked on a report entitled “The Protection of Persons with Disabilities through Petitions: Lessons Learnt”, which highlights the petitions that we have received and examined and the actions we must now take to tackle these issues.

My report has been approved with an overwhelming majority by the Parliament, which shows support for, and a clear commitment to, the challenges that we must tackle. 

This report is timely, considering the recent launch of the European Commission’s new Disability Strategy 2021 – 2030. The Strategy aims to improve the lives of persons with disabilities in a barrier-free Europe, and to promote their social and economic inclusion and participation in society, free from discrimination and in full respect of their rights on equal basis with others. 

Currently, European citizens face numerous barriers, many of which create obstacles for persons with disabilities when moving to another Member State for work, study or any another reason. At the core of this issue is that currently, there is no mutual recognition of the disability status between EU Member States.

The new Strategy proposes an EU-wide Disability Card by end of 2023, to scale up the pilot project of the European Disability Card. The European Disability Card will be a very important instrument in helping persons with disabilities exercise their right to free movement in a barrier-free Europe. Therefore, I have stressed in my report that the European Disability Card should be mandatory in all Member States.

The Committee on Petitions plays a crucial role as a bridge between EU citizens, Parliament and other EU Institutions and an important instrument for getting people involved in participatory democracy. It is essential that the EU and its Member States ensure that the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in all areas of life and society is central to them exercising their fundamental rights. 

The right to petition Parliament is one of those fundamental rights. However, those with disabilities face enormous obstacles in exercising their right to petition. That is why it is important for the European Parliament to ensure that its website is accessible for persons with disabilities, in line with the ‘leading by example’ policy.

Moreover, it should allow the tabling of petitions in international and national sign languages used in the EU and thus make the fundamental right to petition more accessible for sign language users. 

My report also focuses on barriers that children with disabilities encounter when it comes to inclusive education. Here, the European Commission should strengthen the role of the Child Guarantee in ensuring inclusion of children with disabilities. Member States should also increase their educational systems’ capacity to provide high-quality inclusive education for all learners. 

“Despite all of our common agreed values and treaties, people with disabilities continue to face multiple barriers and discrimination in everyday life”

The report also calls on all Member States that have not yet ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to do so without further delay. The Optional Protocol is an indivisible part of the CRPD, which provides EU citizens with a forum to communicate alleged violations of the provisions of the convention by a State Party.

It also allows the CRPD Committee to initiate confidential inquiries when they receive information indicating that a State Party has committed a grave or systematic violation.

Shamefully, the EU has not yet adopted an Anti-discrimination Directive, which has been blocked for over a decade at the European Council. My report urges the Commission to present an alternative solution, so we can move forward in tackling discrimination across the EU as quickly as possible.

Persons with disabilities have the same rights as persons without, and it is our duty to respond to our citizens’ concerns when they voice their concerns in their petitions and wish to improve the lives of persons with disabilities in a barrier-free Europe.

It is our duty to promote social and economic inclusion and the participation of persons with disabilities in society, free from discrimination and in full respect of their rights on an equal basis with others. 

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