The inclusion of 80 million people with disabilities in the European Union, 16% of its population, is of utmost importance for creating a more active and sustainable ageing society in Europe. Making efforts, rather than promises, to actually achieve their inclusion socially and in the labour market offers a previously neglected opportunity for meeting and understanding Europe's future workforce needs. Apart from migration, people with disabilities and elderly people could be a real answer to the general shortage in the active and working population. Amongst others, this is one of the main goals of EPP Group MEP Ádám Kósa's proposals, which will be voted on in the European Parliament this month.
Consumers and taxpayers of the future
As the financial and economic crisis rages with ever-decreasing levels of consumption, a lack of accessibility to services and limited mobility and communications solutions for people with disabilities means that they are often unable to find educational, training or job opportunities that fulfil their needs and enable them able to take part in the open labour market.
"The creation of barrier-free workplaces would be required for them to become equal members of the labour market and society and that is the most important goal," says Kósa, Rapporteur on the mobility and inclusion of people with disabilities and the EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020.
Reaching this goal would mean a revolutionary approach to people with different disabilities and needs, within a framework of tailored opportunities for the tens of millions of people with disabilities, who could not only become the taxpayers but the consumers of the future.
Dramatic changes expected in the labour market by 2020
The inclusion of people with disabilities and old people would provide an indispensable contribution also to the short-term needs of the European labour market. On one hand, the European workforce is diminishing because, according to the Commission's data, from now until 2020 one million workers a year will be leaving the labour market due to the retirement of the so-called 'baby-boomer' generation. On the other hand, people with disabilities have been forced to adapt to non barrier-free environments that prevent their real mobility and inclusion and accept low-level jobs, regardless of their education and skills.
This new link between the gap in the labour market and people with disabilities is created by Ádám Kósa, the European Parliament's first deaf MEP, in his report on 'mobility and inclusion of people with disabilities and the new EU Disability Strategy 2010-2020'.
Ádám Kósa's proposals
Ádám Kósa's report was presented in the Employment and Social Committee (EMPL Committee) at the end of May 2011 and adopted in July with remarkable support from all the political groups in the European Parliament. The document, the result of long and broad consultations between all stakeholders, including political groups, a wide range of disability-related NGOs, the Hungarian EU Presidency and the European Commission, aims to introduce a revolutionary approach to disability. It promotes barrier-free accessibility, special communication techniques for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, as well as the blind, and proposes new patterns and obligations for inclusive education systems, with stronger support for parents of children with disabilities and an emphasis on the importance of early recognition of special needs.
Apart from the proposals already mentioned in the Commission’s EU Disability strategy for 2010-2020, this report introduces many other unique proposals, such as a new approach to the production of cars modified for wheelchair users, finding solutions to enable the blind to handle electronic interfaces or EU-based information desks to help parents with disabled children to cope with the challenges they face every day.
Assessing the European Disability Strategy
The report underlines three important priorities that should be included in the Commission's ten-year European Disability Strategy. Firstly, the report calls for a focus on the human rights of people with disabilities and initiates a shift in the public approach towards this group taking into account changes caused by the ratification of the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. Secondly, it highlights the need to ensure accessibility, in principle as well as in practice, with new innovations (ICT, GPS, etc) to be applied in the spheres of everyday life (from taking part in elections to having accessibility to public information and services). Lastly, it emphasises the importance of employment and stresses the need for inclusive work and educational practices.
According to the EPP Group MEP, it is also important to have legal instruments and measures for the protection of people with disabilities, such as those in the new Hungarian constitution, which uniquely contains elements concerning people with disabilities. The preamble to the document includes the protection of sign language, recognising it as being part of Hungarian culture, and a ban on discrimination against people with disabilities.
Furthermore the EPP Group sees a new opportunity for anti-discrimination legislation in the interest of people with disabilities within the framework of the European Accessibility Act planned for 2012. On this upcoming proposal from the Commission, Kósa considers that it is high time the situation of people with disabilities is dealt with not only academically but in reality – and more effectively, based on eliminating not only obstacles in the approach to disability but also existing physical and communication barriers. Without the latter, the former means nothing, believes Kósa.
The European Council has been blocking the 'general anti-discrimination directive' for years and there is no hope for a change in point of view in the foreseeable future. The new approach adopted by Mr Kósa in his report is in line with the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities. He believes that the European Parliament must play its own role during the implementation of the Convention itself, which was already ratified by the EU this year.
Achieving growth targets
As president of the Disability Intergroup Ádám Kósa believes that it is of utmost importance to reach higher employment levels for people with disabilities. In Western Europe roughly 40% of disabled people have gainful employment. In Eastern Europe this is only 10-15%. But in both regions, people with disabilities are always at risk of being fired first during any lay-offs, regardless of their abilities or skills.
Many studies have proven, however, that people with disabilities are very loyal to their employers in general and work harder than people without disabilities. This is an indispensable condition for the creation of an economically sustainable and inclusive society. The target of 75% employment which was set at the EU level in its EU 2020 Strategy cannot be achieved without including disabled people. Agreement with this was reflected by the adoption by MEPs of Mr Kósa's report in the EMPL Committee this summer with a 92% majority.