On the 3rd of October EUD participated in a public hearing organised by the Permanent Study Group on Disability Rights from the European Economic Social Committee, who follow-up on the United Nations Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities, or UNCRPD Committee’s concluding observations (COs) in relation to the EU two years after their publication. The aim of the hearing was to offer representatives from EU Institutions, organisations representing persons with disabilities (DPOs) and other civil society based organisations the opportunity to discuss how the future of the EU Disability strategy after 2020 should mainstream the CRPD Concluding Observations into EU policy, ensuring the full harmonisation of the UN CRPD in all EU laws, policies and programmes.
The first panel discussion focused on the future of the EU Disability Strategy post 2020.
Currently, the European Disability Strategy (EDS) 2010-2020 constitutes a comprehensive multiannual framework for implementing the UN CRPD on the EU level. After 2020 the new European Disability Strategy 2020-2030 will, hopefully, be adopted by the European Commission, which should be guided by the UN CRPD Committee’s concluding observations for the EU, published in 2015. Concluding Observations include comments and recommendations on topics that the EU needs to work on and improve. During the public hearing, different stakeholders and experts expressed their views. The representative from the European Commission, Emmanuelle Grange, highlighted that the European Commission is currently listening to all stakeholders and it will consult with further relevant stakeholders as widely as possible, particularly people with disabilities, before adopting the new European Disability Strategy, in order to make sure that the needs of persons with disabilities are not overlooked. Ms Grange highlighted that public consultations will start in 2019. It was emphasised that input from the civil society is necessary for the Commission. Catherine Naughton, Executive Director of the European Disability Forum (EDF) added that it is needed to reflect on and build on the achievements of the current EDS while drafting the new Strategy.
In the second part of the hearing DPOs had an opportunity to share their views regarding the new EDS. Mark Wheatley, Executive Director of the EUD, presented that from the deaf perspective, the future EU Disability Strategy should take two particular recommendations of the CRPD Committee into account. Firstly, the new EDS should aim at ensuring freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information for deaf people. In the COs the Committee recommended that the European Union should take the necessary measures to enforce the implementation of its legislation (such as the Web Accessibility Directive or the Audio-Visual Media Service directive) to improve access to information and communication through accessible means, including sign languages and to promote official recognition of sign language. Therefore, the EU must take the necessary measures to monitor the implementation of future legislation in order to be in line with the concluding observations and include the topic as a priority in the Disability Strategy and aim at addressing current lacks in future legislative revisions.
Moreover, in the COs the Committee recommended that the European Union take the necessary measures to cooperate with its Member States and representative organisations of persons with disabilities, to enable all persons with all types of disabilities to enjoy their right to vote and stand for election, including but not limited to providing accessible communication and facilities. Mr Wheatley highlighted that the full participation of persons with disabilities in society must be a core element of the European Disability Strategy in light of future European elections. He also highlighted, that it is crucial to take the deaf perspective into account before and during the election period and make it as fully accessible for the deaf voters as possible, through sign language or subtitling. It was emphasised that the European Parliament itself and its Committee meetings must become fully accessible for deaf persons for them to be able to make fully informed choices during the elections. Accessibility to political participation is often understood as a removal of physical barriers while accessing voting stations and ballots, however for deaf persons, there are other issues. Denial of sign language interpreters or subtitling before and during the elections makes the political process inaccessible as well. Therefore, activities of political parties, media, campaign materials, electoral programmes must be interpreted into the official national/regional sign languages in order for deaf persons to have access to information. The new EDS must take Committees recommendations into account and make sure that all persons with disabilities have an equal right to all aspects of political participation.
In the concluding remarks it was noted that the 2030 strategy needs to have more concrete objectives than the previous strategies, with concrete deadlines. While reflecting on the COs during the process of drafting the new EDS, accessibility needs to be reviewed holistically, including the review of existing and future EU legislation with regards to its compliance with the strategy rather than as an individualised exercise. The EUD will continue to follow the developments regarding the new European Disability Strategy to make sure it fully mainstreams deaf perspective.