European Days of Persons with Disabilities 2017: Towards an inclusive, social and sustainable Europe

5 December 2017
Participants of the conference

The European Days of Persons with Disabilities brought together hundreds of persons with disabilities and it was an occasion to celebrate diversity and social inclusion.

As every year around the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (3 December), the European Commission and EDF co-organised a two-day conference in Brussels on 4-5 December 2017.

Persons with disabilities discussed citizenship, political participation, sustainable development and urban accessibility with the European Commission, members of the European Parliament, the Council, public authorities and other stakeholders and experts.

Opening the conference, Michel Servoz, European Commission Director General, talked about inequalities that still persist in Europe giving the example of the high unemployment rate for people with disabilities: “The employment rate of people with disabilities is only 48% and only 28% of people with disabilities have finished tertiary education. This gap is huge and is not acceptable.”

Speaking at the opening, EDF President, Yannis Vardakastanis, stated: “To be a citizen means to be able to exercise rights, to be part of society and not to be in the corner of it. And this is what we fight for”. Yannis Vardakastanis also referred to the European Pillar of Social Rights (Social Pillar) as a tool for the European Union (EU) to fulfil its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD).

“The CRPD s addresses all levels and areas of policy making. The EU should, therefore, adopt an overarching and comprehensive European Disability Strategy 2020-2030 to make CRPD a reality in Europe with the active involvement of persons with disabilities. The Strategy should be integrated in the forthcoming EU Multiannual Financial Framework to ensure adequate funds for its implementation”, added Yannis Vardakastanis.

The first panel of the conference discussed what the EU does for persons with disabilities. Member of EDF Executive Committee, Rodolfo Cattani, talked about efficient social protection systems and initiatives to reduce inequality in the framework of the Social Pillar and Thorkild Olesen, Chair of Disabled Persons Organisations Denmark, presented the links between the rights of persons with disabilities and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ciara O’Brien, Chair of the Council of Europe Human Rights Committee, reported on the progress of countries in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals for people with disabilities; she said that the Council will continue working to make sure that the EU signs the Optional Protocol to the CRPD.

Political participation and the right to vote is a crucial component of citizenship and democracy. Today in Europe, hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities are excluded from this right due to legal, accessibility or other barriers. As we are getting close to the European elections in 2019, this was at the centre of discussions at the event.

“Participating in political life is not a luxury for people with disabilities. It is a fundamental right and a precondition that allows people to exercise their own autonomy” said Albert Prevos, Member of EDF Executive Committee.

The President of the European Deafblind Union, Sanja Tarczay, and David Clarke, a self-advocate with down syndrome, shared their experiences with regards to this issue. They both denounced the barriers to the right to vote and called on the EU and its Member States to take action to make it possible for persons with disabilities to vote and participate in political life.

Furthermore, good examples of accessible public spaces and of smart cities were presented by the cities of Luxembourg and Lugo during the conference. They demonstrated how it is possible to mobilise resources to improve public services and make them truly inclusive.

Participants discussed how cities can take disability into account. Nadia Hadad, Board Member of the European Network of Independent Living (ENIL), called for accessibility and universal design as conditions for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society.

Future priorities for common work were discussed at the end of the event. The Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU confirmed that among its priorities will be to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities as full members of society. EDF Vice President, Pat Clarke, concluded the event by calling on all representatives of the European institutions to continue working together with people with disabilities to remove barriers that prevent their full participation in society.

Access City Awards

An important moment of the conference was the Ceremony of the Access City Award on the second day. This is the European prize that rewards cities for their efforts in becoming accessible to all. The awards were given to the representatives of the winning cities by the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, Marianne Thyssen, and EDF Vice-President, Ana Peláez. The Commissioner also addressed EDF and gave her congratulations to EDF’s 20th anniversary.

The winner of 2018 Access City Award is: Lyon (France). The 2nd prize went to Ljubljana (Slovenia) and the 3rd prize to the City of Luxembourg (Luxembourg).

A special mention on Accessibility in Historical Settings was given to: Viborg (Denmark).

Find more information about the Access City Award on the European Commission’s website

Watch the video of the first day of the conference (4 December) here

Watch the video of the second day of the conference (5 December) here

Follow all updates on Twitter using the hashtags: #EUdisability, #EDPD2017, #WeAreEUCitizens and #EUAccessCity.

Photos of the conference are available on EDF Facebook page

Photo credits: European Commission

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