Bringing rights to life for people with disabilities

Speech given by FRA Director Morten Kjaerum at the European Parliament on 07 September in Brussels.
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Speech by Morten Kjaerum at the European Parliament, Brussels

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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Mr Kósa,
Thank you for this good initiative.
“Even if I cannot speak, it doesn’t mean I have nothing to say.” That’s how one person with disabilities expressed it when we interviewed her. It underlines the barriers that people with disabilities face every day of their lives - 80 million people in the EU. Accessibility barriers, socio-economic barriers, communication barriers. But verbal communication is not the only way to communicate, let me illustrate it with this short video: [Run video] That was Jane’s life in London. Those were her own pictures, pictures of how she views the world, our world. A world that needs changing to become more inclusive and more accessible to people with disabilities. The EU’s Charter on Fundamental Rights specifically refers to the need to integrate people with disabilities into community life. Ádám Kósa’s report on mobility and inclusion clearly underlines what still needs to be done to bring rights to life for people with disabilities in Europe. The Charter and, in particular, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities create a crucial starting point, namely we no longer talk about disabled persons but a person with a disability. We have crossed the most important threshold: We now see the human being first and then the particular features, such as a mental health problem or a particular incapacity. That is what a rights-based approach contributes to the overall work in this, as in so many other areas. At the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, we have been collecting data on the situation of people with intellectual disabilities and people with mental health problems. Already our independent research on the right to political participation has uncovered that in some countries this basic right is denied. This is a major barrier to full participation in elections for the European Parliament, for example.
But people with disabilities should be able to participate in society. They should be able to vote. After all, they are entitled to, under the UN Convention. And our work continues. Next month, the Fundamental Rights Agency will release a report, which summarises the international and European legal standards on independent and institutional living, legal capacity and access to justice. These are just some of the rights guaranteed by the UN Convention. The Convention fundamentally changed how we understand disability – it recognises that all people with disabilities can take decisions. It calls for a change in outdated incapacity laws. It calls for support to people with intellectual disabilities so they can take their own decisions: Without legal capacity, people with intellectual disabilities have no say in where to live or who to marry.
In line with the philosophy of ‘nothing about us, without us”, the Agency is conducting independent sociological research on the actual experiences of people with disabilities in nine countries. People with disabilities shared with us their experiences of living in institutions, making the transition to living in the community, looking for work or formally complaining if they felt their rights were violated. As part of the research, we asked interviewees to document their everyday lives through photo voice, like the video you just saw earlier. We also talked to other important stakeholders, such as families, carers, personal assistants and service providers about how to concretely make rights a reality for people with disabilities.

Vice-President Reding just spoke about. The UN Convention recognises the importance of accessibility in enabling persons with disabilities to fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms. In transport and technology, for example, minimum accessibility standards exist by law. But often they are not implemented in practice. We seek to produce the first EU-wide analysis of why this is so. We hope that this research and the findings from our other studies on disability will help the European Commission to implement the European Disability Strategy and the European Parliament to create the policies and laws that will make a tangible difference on the ground to the millions of people with disabilities across Europe.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
We look forward to continue working and building together with you a better, more inclusive society for the many Janes out there in Europe today.
Thank you for your attention.