One in six people in the EU lives with some sort of disability. They have been estimated to account for around 80 million citizens with limited or no access to the job market, goods and services and education opportunities, resulting in fragile financial stability.
In Article 26, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states that “The Union recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community”. As the EU considers human dignity inviolable, the Charter emphasises equality and solidarity for all in every aspect including labour and employment by noting that: “Every worker has the right to working conditions which respect his or her health, safety and dignity”.
In May 2008, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) entered into force, setting out overarching goals and values for the preservation and protection of rights and freedoms of people with disabilities. Following the objectives already set out in the UNCRPD, the European Commission proposed the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 with the overall aim of empowering European citizens with disabilities, supporting them in job-seeking and education procedures, entering the labour market and protecting their socio-economic status in the EU. The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 proved efficient in many areas, such as equality (preventing discrimination and seeking equal opportunities) and accessibility (ensuring all the goods and services are at everybody’s hand) for people regardless of their disability. However, the Evaluation of the strategy conducted in 2019 by the European Commission, has further shown that there undoubtedly is a lot of room for improvement, especially in terms of employment and cross-border recognition of persons with disabilities.
In order to understand it better, take a closer look at:
All Europeans, aged between 15 and 64 years represent the working-age population. Unfortunately, the employment rate of people with visible working difficulties is less than 50%, which is 20% less than the employment rate of those who have no such difficulties. Reasonably so, these numbers do not encourage young people with disabilities to seek job opportunities. Furthermore, the most common answer for their inactivity in the job market remains to be “having an illness or disability”.
The Evaluation of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 notes that only 75% of the proposed actions in the area of labour and employment for people with disabilities were implemented by the Member States, further mentioning that a total of 6% have not been implemented at all. In other words, the strategy did not achieve the synchronised implementation across the EU. One of the reasons for that was the existing disbalance between the recognition and opportunities for citizens with disabilities depending on the Member State. Not being a binding document, the strategy's power was limited to guidelines and recommendations for the Member States to follow, leaving the complete authority over funding, consulting and awareness-raising in the hands of national governments.
Another alarming issue that came as a result of the evaluation, is the insensitiveness towards the different types of disabilities. Namely, the strategy put more focus on visible disabilities (autism, amputations, Down syndrome), leaving those with invisible (intellectual) disabilities partly neglected.
Finally, both the European Commission and its partner organisations, such as the Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED) and Inclusion Europe, have recognised the utmost necessity for more efficient data collection based on all forms of disabilities, in all sorts of occupations and employment across the Member States.
What innovations should the new 2030 strategy bring in order to ensure the welfare of all, ensuring nobody is left behind?
Although the new strategy should be a result of joint efforts coming from the Member States, experts and organisations, just like the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, the upcoming strategy would be brought by no other than the European Commission. Following the request from the European Parliament, the Commission is said to deliver a strategy that will continue to foster the values of the UNCRPD, while setting its own action plan based on expertise consulting coming from the Academic Network of European Disability Experts (ANED) and the findings of the evaluated former strategy. The initiative as a whole has many optional funds such as the European Social Fund for support. Once finalised, the strategy and its guidelines will be transferred onto the Member States.
With the vision of equal opportunities in life for people with intellectual disabilities, Inclusion Europe represents the European “voice” for those working on their integration, not just in the labour market, but also in society.
Known as an “umbrella” organisation, European Disability Forum (EDF) stands up for people with disabilities across Europe, in areas such as education, health, accessibility, gender equality and international cooperation. A little more specified in its area of work, the European Union of the Deaf (EUD), is another NGO seeking dialogue with targeted EU institutions. EUD is a member of the EDF.
Even though it does not focus only on Europe, one of the United Nations agencies, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) could assist the upcoming strategy to better embrace the values of the UNCRPD through its open research and projects.
See more information about those actors below:
The European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 was the framework set out by the Commission to promote barrier-free Europe and support the UNCRPD’s goals for inclusion of persons with disabilities. The action plan consisted of eight priority areas including accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection, health and external action (promotion of the rights of people with disabilities). Under its wing, the Strategy has led quite a few initiatives. Some of these, such as the European Accessibility Act, the Web Accessibility Directive and legislation on the Rights of Passengers with Reduced Mobility have been recognised as main achievements in the 2019 Evaluation of the Strategy. The European Accessibility Act successfully paved the way for legislation of policies for EU citizens with disabilities with 63% of its actions fully adopted and put into force. It ensured an increase in the accessibility of goods, services, including public services and assistive devices for persons with disabilities. Likewise, the Web Accessibility Directive, made online information available for all, subsequently, supporting the job seeking and working conditions for the people with disabilities.
Under the achievements of the Strategy, the Commission has also recognised improvement in the area of education and training for those with working disabilities. As the job market becomes more and more compatible with the growing number of young people who proceed with their higher education, integration of people with disabilities into programmes such as Erasmus+ should remain one of the top priorities of upcoming Strategy. Disabilities have been also emphasised (mainstreamed) in the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights which constantly seeks to foster and improve the rights of European citizens.
With the financial support of the Erasmus+ programme, the EDF has launched the Inclusive Mobility Alliance 2.0, a project aiming to gather organisations and institutions to develop easier mobility in higher education for people with disabilities across the borders of the Member States.
Another positive example comes from the EUD, which has set out a list of recommendations for the new 2030 disability strategy, their requests include ensuring the accessibility of information in national sign languages, digital upskilling and better data tracking.
Unfortunately, as if the situation was not complicated enough, the EU is under severe pressure from the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, the role of the ILO and its experience in dealing with crises is irreplaceable. Putting down five key points, the ILO stresses that no one will be left behind, not now, not ever.
To get inspired of what might have been overlooked or is yet to be done, take a look at these:
Even though the upcoming 2030 Disability Strategy ought to be a general framework proposed by the Commission for the protection of all Europeans with disabilities, the Member States will be the ones who could make the tables turn once and for all. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to go beyond these few pages we call the Topic Overview, and conduct research on how your country (being a Member State or not) deals with the employment of persons with disabilities, look for national actors, government policies, individuals’ experience or even your personal ones (whether it is someone you know, or perhaps you, yourself). Think about the positive and negative aspects so that you will be able to share the findings with the committee. If there is a Member State or a country you find interesting and beneficial to our topic, feel free to deliver as much information as you want! Remember we are here to learn from each other!