Last month, in February 2023, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Disability Rights, Mr Gerard Quinn, published a rapport on his visit to the EU with a focus on its progress with EU laws and policies related to employment, independent living, human rights and foreign policy, as well as the EU’s progress in implementing and monitoring the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD). To develop this report, Mr Quinn visited the EU institutions from 21st to 31st March 2022 to assess their progress first hand. Mr Quinn also met representative organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs), and other key stakeholders to better understand the situation from their perspective, and not just within the EU institutions themselves.
In the report, Mr Quinn welcomes the strong commitment of the EU to implementing the UN CRPD, including through the EU Disability Rights Strategy 2021–2030. He encourages the EU’s overarching objective to mainstream disability perspectives into all its laws and policies as well as when it is transposed at national level in EU Member States. However, Mr Quinn made some concrete recommendations in the areas where he identified the need for improvement to effectively realise the UN CRPD. Indeed, at EU level, the UN CRPD is not yet being sufficiently implemented as the in-practice reality for persons with disabilities is not optimal in several areas, such as employment and accessibility.
Regarding deaf persons’ rights at the EU level, the Special Rapporteur makes specific mention of the vagueness of the EU Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030, in terms of the diverse types of disabilities, “On its face, the Disability Strategy does not seem attuned to the particular rights and needs of specific groups, like persons with intellectual disabilities, autism, psycho-social disabilities, the deaf community or persons with Alzheimer’s disease.” Accordingly, Mr Quinn advises that this narrow focus must be broadened and the EU’s approach to implement the UN CRPD should be made more specific to each disability group.
The Special Rapporteur also highlights a key issue for the deaf community in terms of their accessibility at EU level, by mentioning that there are “some obvious issues of law reform, like the granting of official European Union language status to sign language (which already has official status in all the member States), ought to be contemplated and put on the agenda for change.” Here, Mr Quinn advises that the EU must prioritise this issue on its agenda for implementing the UN CRPD at EU level – namely, the EU must officially recognise and promote all its Member States’ national sign languages at the EU level. As, currently, deaf persons cannot enjoy their right to accessibility of information, communication and knowledge at EU level events, meetings, conferences and more, as national sign languages are not provided. You can read more about this issue in EUD’s Alternative Report for the second review of the EU by the UN CRPD Committee (for List of Issues Prior to Reporting).