The European Parliament will be voting on Wednesday on a report calling on the European Commission and Member States to implement a number of initiatives aimed at ensuring that the Member States are in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
MEP Alex Agius Saliba (S&D) said in a press briefing organised by the EP Office in Valletta that the aim of the report is to continue strengthening awareness and promoting equal rights and opportunities in the EU and the Member States for people with disabilities, particularly in a reality in which the COVID-19 crisis has placed additional burdens on persons with specific challenges.
The report is based on petitions addressed to the European Parliament regarding disability issues. Each year, Agius Saliba explained, the Committee on Petitions receives a number of petitions related to different disability issues, showing that that persons with disabilities face discrimination and obstacles in everyday life and do not enjoy the fundamental freedoms and rights laid out in the Convention. The Committee on Petitions plays a ‘protection role’ to ensure EU compliance with the CRPD within the policymaking and legislative actions at EU-level. This role is an important institutional responsibility given to the committee in the EU framework.
Among the recommendations being put forward in the report was the harmonisation of the definition of disability across the EU and the establishment of a fully-fledged European Disability Card which so far has remained a pilot project in a few Member States. Agius Saliba said that the European Parliament wants such right to be enjoyable in every Member State, facilitating the free movement of persons with disabilities. Therefore, the report emphasizes that mutual recognition of the Card should be mandatory in all Member States.
The Labour MEP said that more needs to be done in the field of employment, where efforts at integration and inclusion remain inconsistent, with a few Member States taking effective measures, while others continue to lack behind. He noted how only 26% of disabled men and around 21% of disabled women are integrated in the workplace, thereby creating a double discrimination against the latter.
Alex Agius Saliba insisted that disability rights are often the subject of declarations and resolutions, but reality most often differs, noting how even the European Parliament itself occasionally fails to deliver on this matter. He recalled how an MEP carrying a disability was unable to access to Parliament’s podium due to the lack of ramp access, while calls for sign language availability within the Petitions Committee, remain unanswered.
The press briefing was also addressed by Samantha Pace Gasan, Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability. She noted that life for persons with a disabiltiy remains a struggle at every point, whether access to education, work or housing. It is therefore important that we listen to them – they are the ones who can truly share their issues, sometimes not even talking to their parents or caregivers is enough. Pace Gasan recalled a number of initiatives taken at EU level that have led to tangible benefits to persons with dsiabilities, such as web accesibility directive which has vastly enhanced digital accesibility. However, she insisted that much more was required to ensure the full integration of such persons in their respective communities.
The report to be presented by Agius Saliba, which is expected to attract cross-partisan support, will push the European Commission for a swift implementation of a number of proposals enshrined in the recently launched EU disability strategy. This strategy calls for the launch of a European resource centre, AccessibleEU, to increase coherence in accessibility policies and facilitate access to relevant knowledge.
The MEP said that he welcomes the Commission’s proposal of the creation of the “AccessibleEU” resource centre by 2022. However, he added, the report would be pushing for the Commission to go beyond, namely through the creation of an “EU Access Board” which would strengthen its power and give EU institutions, policymakers and Member States specialist information on accessibility, including policy recommendations based on scientific evidence and on input from the most vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities.