UN Disability Convention: A driver for EU change

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has helped advance the rights of people with disabilities across the EU. A new Focus paper by the EU Agency of Fundamental Rights (FRA) outlines how.

The UN’s Disability Convention marks a significant departure in how people with disabilities are viewed,” says FRA interim Director Constantinos Manolopoulos. “It has helped alter the thinking of EU and national policy makers. While much remains to be done to change the daily lives of many people with disabilities, the EU and its Member States are making steps in the right direction.

As this latest FRA Focus paper shows, all Member States have made changes to their laws and policies linked to the CRPD. To date, the CRPD has been ratified by 25 EU Member States and the EU itself. This paper outlines reforms that have taken place in some thematic areas. These include:

  • Equality and non-discrimination: Plans to extend the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of disability to all areas of life under EU law are stalled. However, some Member States have extended protection beyond employment, the only area covered by EU law. In many cases, national reforms also cover goods and services, and some Member States have gone still further.
  • Accessibility: Under the CRPD, accessibility is broader than just physical access; it covers equal access to transportation, information and communications, and public facilities and services. Currently 15 Member States have mandatory accessibility standards for public buildings, often in line with EU-level standards. With standards now commonplace, attention is turning to ensuring that they are implemented. Legal reforms concerning access to information and communication focus on measures targeting audiovisual media providers and online information. The EU’s planned European Accessibility Act should improve the market for accessible goods and services by stimulating innovation and harmonising accessibility standards.
  • Equal recognition before the law: Granting people with disabilities more autonomy in their decision making is proving challenging for many Member States. However, legal capacity remains one of the areas with the largest number of reforms at the national level linked to CRPD ratification. Nonetheless, all Member States still allow for some restrictions on making legally-recognised decisions.
  • Independent living: Under the CRPD this right covers wide-ranging obligations including choice in living arrangements, personalised support and access to community services and facilities. Several Member States have introduced the right to personal assistance. Others are focusing on the transition from institutional care to community-based support, which can be helped by funding from the European Structural and Investment Funds. The current rules for the structural funds include a number of conditions which must be fulfilled before funds may be released, several of which refer to the CRPD.
  • Education: Many Member States are taking steps towards an inclusive education system, in recognition of how it helps foster full and active participation in society and enables access to employment.
  • Work and employment: The EU’s Employment Equality Directive, now part of national law in all Member States, prohibits discrimination on the grounds of disability. It also incorporates the duty of reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities. Some Member States have introduced incentives to employ people with disabilities. Others have mandatory quotas for employees with disabilities.
  • Participation in political and public life: Here reforms have focused on the link between the right to vote and legal capacity, as well as accessibility of electoral processes.
  • Involuntary placement and involuntary treatment: Legislation in this area has been a focus of significant reform, with most Member States altering their legislation before and after the CRPD entered into force. However, implementing CRPD provisions in this area remains challenging, particularly when it comes to the question of decision making.

Overall the paper shows that the CPRD is driving wide-ranging legislative changes in and across the EU. This will continue in light of the CRPD-required frameworks to promote, protect and monitor the convention’s implementation that have been set up in most Member States and by the EU itself. FRA is one of the members of the EU’s monitoring framework for the CRPD.

To read the paper, see: Implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) - An overview of legal reforms in EU Member States.