New EU rules to have ‘strong, concrete’ disability obligations

New EU rules to have ‘strong, concrete’ disability obligations

2013. 12. 09.

I have had the honour of working in the European parliament since 2009 and as president of the disability intergroup my efforts are guided by the motto, 'Nothing about us without us!' Day after day I work for, alongside and with disabled people and try to draw the attention to the fact that today's achievements in the field of accessibility or universal design are of outmost importance for healthy and active workers as well. While it is clear to everybody that the employment rate of people living with disabilities is very low throughout the world, we tend to neglect the fact that the number of pensioners grows by around one million per year – and this only in Europe. And while it is a well-known fact that with ageing our body will suffer from the loss of sight or hearing, not to mention other disabilities, we, the young and active workers of today shall not forget that when we talk about an inclusive society, when we talk about our own generation in some years' time. If we want to live a full and active life when we grow older, we should act now to dismantle barriers and promote universal design and accessibility for all.

In accordance with the principle of inclusive education, work and home for all, over the past few years I have organised more than 13 programmes within the framework of the disability intergroup. Only this year we discussed the annual report on the situation of the fundamental rights in the EU and the situation of women with disabilities.

In the past four years I have also held 20 conferences in the European parliament in cooperation with different NGOs, from which I would like to highlight some: in 2011 the first ever world report on disability, produced jointly by the WHO and the World Bank, was presented in the European parliament. In 2012, with more than 70 parliamentarians, policy experts and representatives of disability organisations we discussed the so-called Zero project, which comparably shows that access to the built environment and services ranging from transportation through information and communications – including the topical issue of web-accessibility – vary widely in each and every European country.

The most recent conferences have dealt with the evolving concept of sheltered workshops in the EU or with the importance of vocational education and training (VET) for learners with special education needs (SEN). I also organised a hearing awareness week recently to call the attention to the fact that, according to the WHO, hearing impairment will be the most prevalent disability in the future. This autumn I hosted an event aimed at providing successful solutions for children suffering from dyslexia and other learning difficulties, by emphasising the need for a complex approach and the establishment of a European network in order to provide accurate information to parents, children and teachers as well.

It was only in the last month that our conference highlighted the pressing issue of the deinstitutionalisation of large institutions for disabled people and children, regardless of disability, so that they can live in smaller, community-based homes and we already have a concrete reference in the new legislative package on cohesion policy regarding the obligation of member states to spend community money for this transition and not any more on big institutions.

The key aspect of my work is the strengthening of the role of civil society in the programming and implementation process, as well as further and additional support for youth in employment. In this regard, I have to point out that parliament has recently adopted the new legislative package concerning cohesion policy, regional development and social funds. The package contains numerous improvements on the accessibility of people with disabilities. My work as a member of the negotiating team on behalf of parliament's employment and social affairs committee over more than six months eventually succeeded because the new regulation will definitely have improved the rules in terms of employment, social and equal opportunity affairs while using European financial sources as of 2014. It must be underlined that until now, there was only one reference on the accessibility of people with disabilities but in the new legislation we will have more than 10 strong, concrete obligations for the EU institutions, as well as member states, to follow in the case of people with disabilities in particular. Hungary, my home country is a good example, because many of its programmes and initiatives adopted in the past years have already taken into consideration the needs of disabled people and these are to be copied and realised also at EU level with additional financial support from the EU in the future. This success is not mine though, but that of all people with disabilities.

Ádám Kósa is chair of parliament's disability intergroup 

Source: The Parliament Magazine (Issue 380)