Written by Nicole Scholz,
Each year, 3 December marks the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The day was proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) in 1992 to promote awareness and mobilise support. The 2016 theme, ‘achieving 17 goals for the future we want‘, highlights the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and their role in creating a more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities. Adopted in 2015, the SGDs aim, among other things: to foster good health and well-being; ensure inclusive and quality education; promote employment and decent work; reduce inequalities; and make cities and communities inclusive, safe and sustainable.
The observance of this year’s international day of persons with disabilities coincides with the 10-year anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), a binding international human rights instrument that recognises accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities as fundamental rights.
European Commission conference to celebrate the international day of persons with disabilities
Every year, the Commission holds a conference to mark the international day of persons with disabilities. This year’s edition, on 29-30 November 2016, jointly organised with the European Disability Forum (EDF), will specifically celebrate the 10th anniversary of the CRPD.
What does ‘disability’ mean?
‘Disability’ is an umbrella term that covers impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions. ‘Persons with disabilities’ are defined in the CRPD as those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments that, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.
Over 1 billion people – about 15% of the world’s population – have some form of disability. More than 100 million disabled persons are children.
Barriers to participation
Barriers that prevent people with disabilities participating in society equally can take a variety of forms. They can be connected to the physical environment, such as inaccessible transport and public buildings; linked with legislation and policy that is either non-existent or hinders the participation of all people; or relate to societal attitudes and discrimination, including stigma.
- People with disabilities generally have poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities.
- Both adults and children with disabilities are at a much higher risk of violence.
- Women and girls with disabilities are multiply disadvantaged, experiencing discrimination because of their gender and their disability.
EU action on disability
The European disability strategy (2010-2020) builds on the CRPD. It highlights eight areas for action: accessibility; participation; equality; employment; education and training; social protection; health; and external action. A 2014 Commission staff working document specifies the convention’s implementation by the EU in more detail.
Since 2013, the EU has a framework in place to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the CRPD in areas falling within EU competence. These include EU legislation and policy (such as non-discrimination and passengers’ rights) and EU public administration (such as personnel selection and access to documents). The EU framework is composed of the European Parliament (EP), the European Ombudsman, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and the EDF.
The EP’s role in the EU framework:
- The EP promotes the rights of persons with disabilities through public debates, hearings, conferences and other events. Moreover, it set up an inter-committee network, chaired by the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) and made up of members from various other committees. Its task is to promote both the public debate on disability and the EP’s political role in the implementation of the CPRD, primarily by scrutinising documents for their compliance with the convention.
- Parliament protects the rights of persons with disabilities through petitions. These are a means for citizens to communicate with the EP and bring any infringement of EU legislation to its attention.
- The EP monitors the application of EU law through, inter alia, implementation reports, oral questions, studies and implementation assessments.
European Parliament Disability Intergroup
The Disability Intergroup, established in 1980, is an informal grouping of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who are interested in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities. Its co-presidents are Ádám Kósa (EPP, Hungary), Helga Stevens (ECR, Belgium) and Pablo Echenique-Robba (GUE/NGL, Spain). The group’s recent activities include a conference on the European Accessibility Act of 8 November 2016, jointly organised with EDF.
Selected EPRS resources on the topic
A new vision for global health, Briefing, 2016
The protection of vulnerable adults, Study, 2016
Vulnerable social groups: Before and after the crisis, Briefing, 2016
Assistive technologies to support people with disabilities, Briefing, 2015
The European Accessibility Act, Plenary at a glance, 2015