EUROPEAN YEAR OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Reconfirmation of the European Union's objectives during the second National Conference on policies relating to disability, which took place in Bari from February 14 to 16, 2003, supported by the Presidency of the Ministers' Council, the Department of Labour and Social Affairs.

Walter Baldassari

(Advisor to the Istituto Cavazza)

Supported by the Presidency of the Ministers' Council and the Department of Labour and Social Affairs, the second National Conference on policies relating to disability took place in Bari from February 14 to 16, 2003. It was preceeded by the opening ceremony, at the national level, of the European Year for Persons with Disabilities which represents a well thought out event by the European Community. The Conference is a national meeting taking place periodically and expected by Law n.104/92 the framework law on disability (the first Conference took place in Rome in December 1999). The Council of the European Community, also under the request of European movements of persons with disabilities, has proclaimed 2003 the European Year of Persons with Disabilities. It invited all state members to initiate programs and activities in order to concretely carry out the principles of non discrimination, equal opportunity and social integration by disabled citizens, these principles being part of public resolutions and agreements. In the various countries of the European Union, live around 38 million people with disabilities (one out of ten!) belonging to all social levels, and for whom it is necessary to politically intervene at all levels of social structure (school, work, mobility, culture, leisure, etc.) with the awareness that belonging to another disadvantaged group (women, older people, immigrants) involves a double or triple discrimination. Also because of this, it is important to be fully aware that a person with disability experiences a specific subjectivity, which cannot be categorized and which requires individual attention and personalized intervention. With the proclamation of the European Year of Persons with Disabilities, the European Union has indicated objectives and aims at the public level and that of the state members .

The objectives are summarized in this way:
1. To raise awareness of the right of persons with disabilities to be protected from any form of discrimination and to enjoy full and equal rights.
2. To reflect and research on necessary measures to promote equal opportunity for persons with disabilities at all levels of social life.
3. To encourage exchange in terms of good practices at local, national and European levels.
4. To promote forms of more intense collaboration between all institutional and non-institutional entities, directly interested in policies relating to disability (Local and national levels of government, social and non-governmental organizations, private and public entities, voluntary organizations and, in particular, associations of persons with disabilities and their families.).
5. To improve information and communication  about disability, within public opinion, by providing a positive image of persons with disabilities, putting emphasis on the heterogeneity of disability, the multiple forms of disability, and the necessity of personalized intervention.
6. To raise awareness about the multiple forms of discrimination to which persons with disabilities are continually exposed in life.
7. To bring particular attention to the right of children and young persons to conditions of equal opportunity in education and teaching, and to support cooperative experience at the community level between teachers and educators to encourage school integration process.

During the European Year, there will be invitations to participate in competitions to obtain financial support (European and national), based on various criteria indicated by the European Union with state members. The projects will have the objective of encouraging the abilities of persons with disabilities, and to promote the culture of social integration. From March to December, the solidarity bus will tour all of Italy's regions. At the end of the year, the closing conference will take place and will state what measures, also legislative ones, will be taken on in our country in terms of disability. The initiative will have a special meaning because we are within the semester where Italy presides over the European Union. Besides assessing and summarizing the work accomplished in 2003, it will be necessary to contribute to the elaboration of instructions and proposals for future work at the national and community levels.

The second National Conference on policies relating to disability opened with a keynote address by Senator Grazia Sistini, under-secretary to Welfare with delegate powers to Social Affairs. In the afternoon of Saturday, February 15, the Conference was thematically organized in six working sessions, which were all attended by administrators, operators, persons with disabilities and their families as well as representatives of associations. The first working group related to the family, to problems concerning the responsability of taking charge, and on individual life projects the "after us". The second theme concerned subjects relating to school, university, and training. The third group worked on policies relating to work. The fourth group concentrated on mobility and accessibility, while the fifth session related to leisure, sport, tourism and culture. The sixth group worked on prevention, research and innovative technology. In a general way, Government representatives have insisted on the value of the law now in effect: from L. n. 104/92, provisions supporting mainstream integration by children and young people with disabilities; L. n. 68/99 for placement in establishment; to the national law on reform of social aid, with adjustments and corrections suggested directly from experience, and to simplify bureaucratic procedures. Given the variety and complexity of provisions which regulate the sector, Minister Maroni has announced that there was a will to proceed with an intervention to rationalize these provisions until the drawing up of a unique text joining together all  legislative measures relating to disability. This central theme on the future government action brought the announcement of a legislative intervention in favour of persons who are heavily handicapped by bringing support to the family.

Regional and communal representatives have raised the problem of a correct institutional rapport between the various levels of government  national and local and, most of all, the question of financial resources. It is not possible to face qualification and development programs for interventions in terms of disability by reducing noticeably the Social Fund to be transfered to regions (these funds are used for interventions in favour of the population's weakest) or by foreseeing a reduction of support teachers, fundamental elements for school integration policies. In work sessions and during the general assembly, representatives of the Federations of FAND Associations (Federation of National Associations for the Disabled) and FISH (Italian Federation for Overcoming Handicap)  have made their requests clear, expressing their will to proceed in the future in a more unite way for a more efficacious representation of the interests and needs of persons with disabilities.

It is to be hoped that, as announced by under-secretary Sistini during this Conference, that government and institutional representatives have placed themselves in a truly receptive mode, sitting in the last row... with cellular phones turned off! Remains to be seen what has been learned from the provisions which will be established by the end of this year: the European Year of Persons with Disabilies.