Advocacy Officer Frank Sioen and Office Manager Marco Carnesecchi from the ENIL Network.

The challenges of being a disabled person in the European Union today

In 2011, nearly 44 million Europeans declared that they have a disability that limits activities in their daily life. The number is growing and the living conditions of disabled people still need to be improved in Europe, the ENIL – the European Network on Independent Living – underlines.

The data of the disabled people in Europe is difficult to identify, particularly because all disabled people don’t want to register themselves as ‘disabled’, and also due to the fact that the disability classification is different in different countries. However, according to ENIL Network, the number is still growing and could reach up to 80 million by 2020.

The promotion of choice for disabled people

“The possibility of having choice and control on their own life is what disabled people are fighting for,” says Marco Carnesecchi, ENIL Office Manager. ENIL wants to improve the services of personal assistance for disabled people. Two fields are of particular concern: independent living and deinstitutionalisation.

The concept of independent living derives from the Independent Living movement that started in the late 1960s in Berkeley, California as a grassroots movement. This concept means building an environment that allows disabled people to have control over their own lives and where they can access everything. This includes the opportunity to make real choices and decisions regarding where to live, with whom to live and how to live. This is why services must be available and accessible to all.

Disabled people are often put together in specific institutions.

“The concept of deinstitutionalisation is a political and a social process”, explains Marco Carnesecchi.

It occurs when a disabled person placed in an institution is given the opportunity to become a full citizen by being part of the community and to take control of his/her life in his/her own choices. To do so, it is sometimes necessary to provide support, for example by making available affordable and accessible housing in the community or access to public services. One tool that can be used is personal assistance. Indeed, it provides cash allocations for disabled people in order to pay for any assistance needed.

With these concepts, the overall aim of ENIL is to end discrimination against disabled people in Europe. Indeed, building an inclusive society with and for disabled people means that the choice must be given to them.

“Disabled people should be able to choose the school they want to go to and the city they want to live in”, says Rebecca Farren, EVS volunteer at ENIL.

The European framework for disabled people’s rights

In order to put the Independent Living concept into practice, policy measures should be implemented for making all public services available to disabled people in mainstream settings. However, carrying out training and awareness raising activities at the European level is not easy.

“Even if the European Union recognizes the principle of Independent Living, it still hesitates to take strong measures”, says Frank Sioen, ENIL Advocacy Officer. According to him, two factors can explain this situation. First, the EU does not want to go against the members states’ opinions. Then, the implementation of potential legislation may be expensive.

Another issue highlighted by ENIL is the mobility for disabled people through Europe. In order to allow disabled people to spend a long-term stay in another European country, “the EU has to recognize the right to use the personal assistance budget all over Europe, as well as making available specific services, such as physiotherapy, in all countries,” states Mr. Sioen.

The European Pillar of Social Rights – currently under discussion – plans to make social protection and high quality services available. In addition, ENIL advocates for making services available everywhere. In this perspective, one of ENIL’s campaigns aims at assessing the impact of austerity measures in Europe on the life of disabled people. The campaign outlines measures that should be taken at the European level to ensure that cuts in public spending do not lead to further social exclusion and institutionalisation of disabled people. ENIL also plans to organise a march for disabled people’s rights in Brussels on the 27th of September 2017.

Access to education for disabled people: a constant issue

Access to adult education is a key factor for inclusion. In the article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities from the United Nations, “States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to education”. However, in the EU Action Plan on Adult Learning, disabled people are seen as one of the most disadvantaged groups due to their low participation in adult education. Indeed, the accessibility rate to lifelong learning was 9.8 % for non-disabled people in 2011 compared to 6.9 % for disabled people.

ENIL also advocates for a better accessibility to education.

“Disabled people still face accessibilities issues, isolation and bullying at school,” says Rebecca Farren.

For more information about ENIL and their work:

EAEA is working on the integration of people with disabilities through the AEMA project by contributing to equal access to adult education for people with disabilities. Visit the AEMA portal to know more about it!

Text: Clémence Garnier, Lou-Andréa PinsonPhotos: Clémence Garnier, ENIL

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