‘The road to equality for persons with disability is still long’
Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030
At the beginning of the
month March, European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli presented the
Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030. She reacted positively
at my request to go deeper into some aspects of the Strategy by an interview.
Below are her answers.
How do you think the European Union has acted with regard to the inclusion of people with disabilities in the recent years?
We paved the way to a
barrier-free Europe with the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020. The
adoption of the European Accessibility Act in 2019, for instance, was a
milestone. It makes products and services such as phones, e-books and banking
services accessible, so they can be used by persons with disabilities. Yet, while progress has
been achieved, the road to equality is still long and the pandemic has worsened
existing inequalities. Persons with
disabilities are still at a disadvantage when their situation is being compared
to that of persons without disabilities. Due to structural inequalities – for
instance in the field of access to healthcare, lifelong learning, employment and
recreation activities – full inclusion remains difficult, participation in
political life is limited and 52% of the people concerned experienced discrimination. Hence,
our new and strengthened Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
2021-2030 steps up the ambition and aims to ensure their rights can be enjoyed. This will require
constant and collective commitments. With all governments, with social
partners, with civil society and the private sector and of course in close
dialogue and partnership with persons with disabilities. Nothing about persons with disabilities should happen without their
What can we expect from the European Pillar of Social Rights as far as inclusion of people with disabilities in the short and long term is concerned?
The European Pillar of
Social Rights is our beacon guiding us towards a stronger social Europe. This comprises
the full inclusion of persons with disabilities. As such, the objectives of our
new Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are included into the
new European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan. One of the innovations in the
new action plan is a stronger link between the Social Pillar and the European Semester,
which is the annual process of economic and social policy coordination.
Countries that are not performing well, for instance on ensuring equal access
to employment or education of persons with disabilities, will receive a recommendation
to remedy the situation. There is a strong incentive for countries to act. They
can receive billions of EU funding to boost their recovery from the coronavirus
crisis, as long as their plans address the challenges raised in the European
Semester. The coronavirus
has made it even more acute to step up EU policies for persons with
disabilities. With regard to a resilient and fair recovery, policies should be
designed in an inclusive manner for all.
Income inequality, risk of poverty and social exclusion are still challenges in the European Union. How will the European Union solve them in 10 years from now?
Before the pandemic hit
us hard, we were heading in the right direction. In 2019, there were 17 million
fewer people at risk of poverty or social exclusion than in 2012. Despite the
strong support by the EU and its member states the situation is now likely to
worsen in the short term, due to the impact of the coronavirus crisis.
Therefore, we want to act now and limit poverty and income inequality as much
The European Pillar of
Social Rights Action Plan sets a headline target to lift at least 15 million
people out of poverty or social exclusion by 2030. At least 5 million should be
children in order to break the cycle of disadvantage and give all children in
the EU the same opportunities,
especially the most disadvantaged. We have just presented a European Child
Guarantee which guides and supports EU member states in achieving this goal. As
persons with disabilities have a higher risk of poverty than those without
disabilities, the new Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will
help to improve the situation.
What can we expect from the European Disability Strategy for the next 10 years?
Regardless of gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, age or sexual orientation, persons with disabilities should be able to participate in society on an equal basis with others. That means having equal access to education, employment, healthcare, our democratic systems and justice. This also means they should be able to decide where, how and with whom they live. As well as being able to move freely within the EU regardless of their disability.
Through the new Strategy we are taking action on three
main themes. Persons with disabilities should enjoy their EU rights on an equal basis with others, enjoy quality of life and autonomy and live free from discrimination. Among the key initiatives are the launch
of a European resource centre on accessibility, ‘AccessibleEU’, and a European
Disability Card for all EU countries.
Delivering on the actions in the
Strategy will require everyone’s commitment. The Commission does not have the power to enact these
changes alone. By ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons
with Disabilities, the EU and all member states have already committed themselves
to concrete actions to continue breaking down barriers, ensuring equal access
and combatting discrimination. In
April 2021, the Portuguese EU Presidency holds a high-level conference in the
area of disability to kick-start the new way forward.
In March, the European Commission proposed to create a card to facilitate the circulation of people with disabilities in the European Union. How will this help people with disabilities?
Today, persons with disabilities who move
to another EU country, to work or study for instance, face trouble in having
their disability status recognised. This means that they may not have access to
the services and support they need in their everyday lives. Already now, eight
EU countries are participating in a pilot project for a European Disability
Card. Persons with disabilities tell us that this represents an advantage. Hence,
the Commission would like to propose a European Disability Card in all 27 EU
countries by the end of 2023 which will make it easier for people
with disabilities to make use of their right to move freely and enjoy their
rights and services they need to live the way they want to.
Can people with disabilities expect fair employment integration within the European Union? Can a person with a disability be sure he/she will be able to find a job that he/she can carry out, within his/her capabilities?
EU law bans
discrimination and prescribes that employers must provide a reasonable opportunity
to persons with a disability to work with them. The European Union has some of
the most extensive anti-discrimination laws in the world. Yet, only half of all
persons with disabilities have a job, compared to 75% of those without
disabilities. The Covid-19
pandemic has exposed further inequalities that persons with disabilities
continue to face. The pandemic has thus a tougher impact on them. Teleconferencing or working from home can
present obstacles to some. In addition many persons with severe
disabilities work in so-called sheltered employment, which does not always
ensure good working conditions.
Together with disability
organisations the Commission will develop a package to improve the labour
market participation of persons with disabilities. In addition we call on EU member
states to unlock the potential of persons with disabilities and set targets for
their level of employment. We will continue to monitor their progress through
the European Semester.
What should be the role of the private sector? How can public policies have an impact in mobilising private companies?
All employers in the EU,
both in the public and the private sector, have the obligation and the
responsibility to fight discrimination at work. This means concretely that
employers should be providing the necessary support or changes to the work
environment or job organisation to enable a person with a disability to apply
and reach their full potential on equal basis with others.
The Commission will continue to foster the social economy which provides both services and job opportunities for persons with disabilities. By the end of this year, the Commission will adopt an Action Plan on Social Economy. Tapping into the potential of this sector to create qualitative jobs and contribute to a fair, sustainable and inclusive growth for all.
Do you think governments should recognise and even give benefits to companies which include people with disabilities in their job opportunities?
When raising awareness
on the obligations of the private sector, governments can of course encourage
and value inspiring practices. Nonetheless, it is not common to provide
benefits to companies simply because they are complying with the rules. For instance, Portugal
has legislation establishing employment quotas for persons with disabilities
with a degree of disability equal to or greater than 60% since 2019. Hiring persons
with disabilities is mandatory for medium and large public and private
companies which will have to hire between 1% and 2% of workers with
Companies that champion diversity and inclusion experience advantages. They can tap into a wider pool of talented workers and their workers are more productive, because they feel respected, recognised and safe. Diversity in the workforce also leads to more creativity and boosts a company’s image.
What does the European Commission needs to do to be a more inclusive institution itself?
The Commission is currently reviewing its human resources strategy in order to create a work environment where everyone can reach their full potential. The Commission will also boost the recruitment, effective employment and career perspectives of staff with disabilities. It will continue to create inclusive work environments by reinforcing its commitment as an employer to foster diversity and equality. In addition, the Commission will step up efforts to make buildings, IT and information more accessible, both for staff and visitors. We aim to lead by example and call on other EU institutions to do the same.Copyright text: Johan Peters, 30/03/2021 - ...