Saturday, December 08, 2007

EU: One person in six in the European Union has a disability

almost 500 million, this means tens of millions of people are affected in some way. The EU’s policy in this field is termed “mainstreaming”. This means that the needs of disabled people are included in all mainstream EU policies. Greek Socialist Evangelia Tzampazi, who is herself disabled, is a leading voice in the Parliament on disabilities.

So, does mainstreaming actually work?

Mainstreaming offers a framework anticipating social and economic changes rather than endorsing them afterwards. This approach has led to rapid and profound change in a quite short period of time. There are a number of good practices which have already been developed by EU countries in the employment field. These could provide guidance and inspiration for on how to improve the effectiveness of their policies. However, a great deal remains to be accomplished.

What else is needed?

The process of mainstreaming will remain wishful thinking without adequate funding…In the area of equal rights and equal accessibility in employment, the EU offers financial support through various instruments. Moreover, individual citizens, civil society and NGOs must increase awareness of the problems and take an active role in the search of specific solutions.

Is it important to stress the link between mainstreaming and anti-discrimination (as the later is a legal obligation)?

Legally binding disability-specific measures are still needed to prevent any forms of discrimination. Legislation constitutes the cornerstone of an inclusive society, serving as a framework and providing opportunities to make tangible changes. Therefore, we must make sure that the existing European non-discrimination legislation is implemented everywhere with the same level of effectiveness. To guarantee the active inclusion of people with disabilities in all fields of life, we should support the adoption of comprehensive legislation on disability issues that will enhance anti-discrimination protection in the area of employment and extend it to all areas of life.

Are we on the right track in dealing with disabilities?

An inclusive society is an investment in the future as it makes it possible to meet the challenges of demography. In addition we need valid and cross-national information on the labour market position of people with disabilities.

The current Employment strategy (2005-2008) is valid until the end of the year. On 11 December the European Commission is expected to adopt the Lisbon Package which includes a proposal for a European employment strategy 2008-2011. The Parliament will give its opinion on the 2008-2011 strategy during the first half of next year.