On 5th May, disabled people* from all over Europe celebrate the European Independent Living Day. It is a day of solidarity and an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the Independent Living movement and all those who have fought and continue to fight for equality of disabled people in society. A wide array of events, from street parties and marches to academic seminars will highlight the day. Given the theme for this year – “Barriers to Independent Living” – photos, videos and written testimonies will be shared widely on social media under #ILDay18 to raise awareness about obstacles to Independent Living many disabled people still face today. This year’s theme is of particular importance, as the EU is in the process of adopting the European Accessibility Act, which aims to provide a minimum level of accessibility when it comes to products and services in all EU Member States. Adopting the Accessibility Act will be a big step for the EU to promote the inclusion of its 80 million persons with disabilities, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), which now has been ratified by the EU and all Member States.
Enshrined by Article 19 of the UN CRPD, the right to Independent Living is “ the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others. ” This factsheet by the European Network on Independent Living explains further how members of the disability community themselves define Independent Living.
Disability is one of the priority grounds for the work of Equinet and equality bodies. Currently, 32 Equinet member equality bodies implement a mandate addressing the rights of disabled people in the area of employment or beyond at national-level. Equinet has assisted the work of equality bodies through a number of activities and publications, and raised the issue of discrimination and equality at European-level.
As noted in the Equinet 2018 Work Plan, the European Accessibility Act, European Pillar of Social Rights, the proposed Work-Life Directive, and implementation of the UNCRPD by the EU and State Parties and activities of the UNCRPD Committee are topical policy and legislative issues, which remain the focus of Equinet in its contribution to the European equality agenda through engagement with relevant European and international organisations, in particular with the European Institutions.
In more concrete terms, Equinet will partner with ENNHRI (European Network of Human Rights Institutions) to organise a joint training event for equality bodies and NHRIs on engaging with the UNCRPD Committee, to ensure effective engagement with the CRPD Committee as a key for better implementation of the Convention at national level. The training event will be held on 3rd & 4th October 2018 in Riga, Latvia.
In 2013 Equinet published a Good Practice Guide on Equality Bodies Supporting Good Practice on Making Reasonable Accommodation for People with Disabilities by Employers and Service Providers, building on the experience and learning of national equality bodies and partner organizations such as the European Disability Forum (EDF) and European Network Against Racism (ENAR) to provide insight into a broad range of innovative and engaging approaches implemented across Europe in the direction of promoting reasonable accommodation measures, at the same time striving to encourage equality bodies to use the guide as a resource to develop, refine and improve their own approach and to take action in promoting reasonable accommodation among employers and service providers.
In 2014 Realising Rights: Equality Bodies and People with Disabilities. Supporting the Review of the European Union Disability Strategy 2010-2020 Equinet Perspective was developed on the basis of a survey of Equinet members about their work with people with disabilities. It captured the focus and strategy of the work of equality bodies across different Member States and communicated learnings from this for the further evolution of the European Disability Strategy at the point of its review and renewal. The Perspective followed an earlier opinion on EU level disability strategies published in 2009 by Equinet as a way to communicate expertise and experiences of national equality bodies in relation to their work on the ground of disability to the European Commission’s Disability Action Plan proposal at the time.
Informed by the aforementioned publications, in 2016, Equinet and the Austrian Disability Ombudsman organised the seminar Accessibility and reasonable accommodation in Vienna, Austria. The seminar took stock of the experiences of equality bodies on accessibility and reasonable accommodation. It also aimed to build their capacity in understanding, promoting and ensuring reasonable accommodation and accessibility.
In March 2017 Equinet and the Croatian Office of the Ombudswoman for Persons with Disabilities co-organised a capacity-building seminar on Equality bodies tackling discrimination against persons with intellectual disabilities in Zagreb, Croatia, which aimed at helping equality bodies with understanding and clarifying the main concepts related to discrimination against persons with intellectual disabilities, providing them with practical guidance on how to address discrimination against persons with intellectual disabilities from a legal, policy and communication perspective, and stimulate and support knowledge-sharing among Equinet members.
*people with disabilities vs disabled people
– the terms “People with Disabilities” (PWD) and “Disabled people” are often used interchangeably. While PWD is used in the UN CRPD, the Social Model of Disability defines disability as something caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. It looks at ways of removing barriers that restrict life choices for disabled people, to enable them to live independently, as equal members of society. The latter term is often used by members of the Independent Living movement themselves.