The pandemic is likely to leave a lasting impression on many people, not least people with disabilities. If anything, it underlines the need for Europe to honour the rights of people with disabilities and prepare for next year’s European Disability Strategy.
European Disability Day on 3 December grants us the opportunity to reflect on the violations of the rights that many people with disability continue to face.
High rates of unemployment or poverty are common across Europe.
Measures imposed to control the COVID-19 pandemic underlined many vulnerabilities. The vulnerability of national healthcare systems, and existing support for people with disabilities.
COVID-19 measures affected many people with disabilities. They lost access to personal assistance due to restrictions of in-home services. Access to healthcare was also difficult. And physical distancing rules left many isolated as they could not receive visitors.
We already have the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The EU and all its Member States are parties to the Convention. They must thus honour the commitments made.
It is proving to be a significant driver for change. A 2015 FRA paper underscored how it is a catalyst for wide-ranging legal and policy changes across the EU.
It led to national disability action plans and strategies.
It also drove some Member States to change their laws and policies to ensure people with disabilities had more autonomy choice and control over their own lives.
This strategy should not only cover all provisions contained in the Convention. It should also mainstream disability rights across all relevant areas of EU law, policies and programmes.
There are encouraging signs. The European Commission is involving organisations of people with disabilities as it shapes the new strategy. This ensures that issues that really matter to them are high on the EU's agenda. This should continue in the rollout of its implementation.
The future will require significant change. Change to our infrastructure to ensure full accessibility to buildings, transport and digital services, for example. But also change to how we think and do things to take on board the perspectives of people with disabilities.
Only then can the strategy deliver on the promise of a fresh start for people with disabilities. It should enable them to have the right – in theory and in practice – to be full and active members of our society.