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Presidency Conference: Empowering Persons with Disabilities

On the 20th of November, the EUD attended a conference on mobility and accessibility for PWDs, hosted by Slovenia’s Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs, and Equal Opportunities. The event was titled ‘Empowering persons with disabilities to participate in society by increasing their mobility and accessibility fully.’ The discussion covered three areas: multimodal mobility, the EU Disability Card, and the Strategy for Persons with Disabilities 2021–2030.

The conference opened with speakers including the European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli arguing that accessibility is a precondition for the full participation of PWDs in society and the economy. Another speaker featured was EDF President Ioannis Vardakastanis, who highlighted the need for PWDs to be able to participate in decision-making processes according to Article 4.3 of the UNCRPD. Borut Sever, President of National Council of Disabled People’s Organisations of Slovenia, outlined the progress that the country has made on increasing the accessibility of the built environment and information and communication. These goals are addressed in Slovenia’s Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities and Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Applications Act.

The speeches were followed by a presentation on the progress that Slovenia has made for PWDs, especially the monumental step that it has taken in ensuring the rights of deaf and hard-of-hearing as well as deafblind people through constitutionally recognising Slovenian Sign Language. Mag. Cveto Uršič, the State Secretary at the Ministry, said that the Slovenian Constitution now guarantees the right to the unrestricted use and development of Slovenian Sign Language and the language of the deafblind, and that without communication, a person cannot become an effective and productive adult or informed citizen within society. But Anton Petrič, Associate Professional from the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Clubs Association of Slovenia, said we still need to work towards sign language being accessed and taught at all levels of deaf education.

First Panel – Enabling the Multimodal Mobility of People with Disabilities
Roman Rener, Adviser to the Director at the Geodetic Institute of Slovenia, defined mobility as getting from point A to point B on your own, using your body and the aids and means of transport available to you. Mr Rener stated that society’s attitude towards vulnerable groups is best reflected in concrete examples of accessibility in the urban environment and the multimodal mobility of PWDs. Meanwhile, the Director of Slovenia’s Urban Planning Institute, Dr Igor Bizjak, explored the obstacles faced by PWDs that were identified through two targeted research projects: ‘Accessibility of facilities in public use for the needs of the disabled’, which was co-funded by the Slovenian Research Agency and the aforementioned Ministry; and ‘Mobility of persons with disabilities in the premises of judicial authorities’, which was co-funded by the Slovenian Research Agency and the Ministry of Justice.

Second Panel – The European Disability Card
The second panel featured speakers from Belgium, Malta, and Slovenia who talked about the benefits and challenges of the European Commission’s EU Disability Card, piloted in 2017. Saša Mlakar, Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, presented the benefits of the EU Disability Card in Slovenia and its impacts. Slovenia has enacted its EU disability card based on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities Act. Mr Mlakar argued that the card is a necessary bridge connecting EU countries and allowing PWDs to enjoy benefits. Joachim Lommeln, Policy Adviser at Belgium’s Federal Public Service for Social Security, argued that the Belgian implementation of the Card focused on three main deliverables: establishing a public and shared card management system, creating an awareness campaign for service providers, and developing an information campaign for users. Then Rhoda Garland, Executive Director at Malta’s Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability, gave a talk on the Maltese project on people’s experiences using the EU Disability Card. Their feedback led to the replacement of the Maltese national disability card with the EU Disability Card in April 2018.

Third Panel – European Disability Strategy 2021–2030
The final panel included perspectives from OPDs, social services organisations and the European Commission. John Patrick Clarke, Vice President of the EDF, discussed the hopes and expectations for the new European Disability Strategy, stating that having binding legislation to anchor the initiatives proposed in the strategy will yield the best results in terms of protecting the rights and lives of PWDs in Europe. Additionally, Immaculada Placencia Porrero, Senior Expert from the Commission’s Disability and Inclusion Unit, argued that the strategy promotes an intersectional perspective seeking to address the risks of multiple disadvantages faced by PWDs, including women, children, older persons and refugees.

The Slovenian Presidency Conference was informative and exciting as it included perspectives from different parts of Europe and the civil society as well as OPDs. The topics covered physical, digital and linguistic accessibility for PWDs in Europe. Slovenia presented the progress made toward guaranteeing that persons with disabilities can participate fully in their society, whether through mobility, accessibility, or recognition of sign language, following the UNCRPD.

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