For a New Political Season on Disability in Europe

Resounding strategies, delaying tactics, crisis and austerity: European citizens with disabilities are claiming full enjoyment of their civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights.
Rodolfo Cattani

In the European Union, there are 80 million people with disabilities; this represents 16% of the population. As citizens, they would have liked their weight felt by voting in the European elections, but unfortunately once again this fundamental right was not respected, even though in this time of crisis, every vote counts and every voice should be heard. The European Agency for Fundamental Rights, a structure of the European Commission, announced the results of a research at the European level on the right to political participation of persons with disabilities. It was found that only 12 of the 28 EU Member States have adopted legislation on the accessibility of polling stations, however taking almost exclusively into account only persons with reduced mobility. In most Member States, the sites that provide voting instructions and information on candidates do not meet the accessibility criteria for people with disabilities. The European Disability Forum (EDF) has tried to remedy this unfortunate situation by publishing a policy which summarizes the five priorities that form the foundation of a promotional campaign to ensure that the institutions of the European Union resulting from the election of the Parliament and the appointment of Commissioners take into account the aspirations and needs of persons with disabilities.

1) People with disabilities are the first to bear the costs of the economic crisis and austerity measures. Millions of them have been thrown into poverty and marginalization.

Manifesto of the European Disability Forum (EDF)


The drastic cuts in social services and compensatory measures have worsened their living conditions in a completely unacceptable manner. Despite resounding strategies, the EU has failed to protect persons with disabilities. It is absolutely necessary that the members of the European Parliament take a stand against all the policies to cut services and benefits related to disability, because there can be no independent living and full participation in society without support measures and social security.

2) The most important tool to ensure the respect of these rights is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the European Union and 25 out of 28 Member States have ratified, assuming the obligation to promote and respect their rights. The European Union, by ratifying the Convention, has assumed and important responsibility as a defender of the rights of persons with disabilities. The newly elected European Parliament will have therefore to commit to a full and unconditional implementation of the Convention at both European and national levels.

3) The basic principle of auto-determination and autonomy of persons with disabilities is "Nothing about us, without us".

European Disability Forum (EDF)

Article 4.3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stipulates the obligation of the authorities of the States parties to involve people with disabilities through their representative organizations in the design, adoption and application of legislation and policies for the implementation of the Convention and monitoring of all decision-making processes that affect them. The newly elected Members of the European Parliament should maintain close contacts with the representative organizations of the countries of origin, both with the European Disability Forum, in particular through their participation in the Disability Intergroup of the European Parliament, formed in 1980, which offers Members the opportunity to inform themselves and to discuss together with the representatives of persons with disabilities the most important issues examined by Parliament. The newly elected Members of Parliament should therefore take steps toward the reestablishment of the Disability Intergroup and be part of it.

4) The EU single market should be made accessible in all its practical aspects to persons with disabilities. Living, working, studying and travelling in countries other than their own must also be part of the fundamental freedom of people with disabilities, which the EU guarantees to all its citizens. The access to goods and services in the same way as anyone else is not yet guaranteed to persons with disabilities as there are still obstacles to the freedom of movement and the free and full enjoyment of dedicated products and services. The newly elected Members of Parliament will have to commit themselves to ensure persons with disabilities have access to goods and services that are already accessed by all citizens, and to support the rapid and timely adoption of European legislation on accessibility (European Accessibility Act) and the directive on the accessibility of the websites of public bodies.

5) Discrimination is still too substantial regarding the right to vote and to stand in regards to persons with disabilities in the European Union. Millions of people with disabilities are still not able to exercise their right to vote due to a number of obstacles: inaccessible polling stations, inaccessible voting procedures, inaccessible documents and election debates and, in some cases, legal restrictions, in violation of the treaties of the European Union, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. All of these obstacles should be removed until persons with disabilities are guaranteed their fundamental right to participate and contribute actively in the democratic life of the society in which they live.

The newly elected European Parliament will also determine the election of the next President of the European Commission and the European Disability Forum has indicated what commitments should be taken:

  1. The protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in the current crisis;
  2. The timely implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
  3. The removal of all discrimination regarding the participation of persons with disabilities in political life (active and passive voting);
  4. The creation of a single EU market fully accessible to people with disabilities;
  5. IThe respect of the principle of full participation of persons with disabilities in all political and administrative decisions affecting them.

Manifestation at the European Parliament


Chosen by the respective parliamentary groups, candidates for the presidency of the European Union, Martin Schulz (Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats), Jean-Claude Juncer (European People’s Party), Guy Verhofstadt (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), Ska Keller and José Bové (Greens/European Free Alliance) and Alexis Tsipras (European United Left/Nordic Green Left) will have to take a stand on key issues relating to the inclusion of disabled people in European society and work towards finding solutions.

The outlook cannot be defined at present as very promising, but the movement of people with disabilities does not intend to give up its ideals and its rights, strong esteem and consideration that it has earned in the past, which can be a solid basis for the difficult confrontation with the EU institutions in the years to come.