The European Union (EU) must act to halt the “blatant discrimination” that prevents disabled people working, studying or travelling in other countries, according to a major new report by Europe’s leading disabled people’s organisation.
The Freedom Guide, or Paving the Way Towards Free Movement for Persons with Disabilities, is a key part of the European Disability Forum’s (EDF) new campaign to remove the barriers to free movement faced by disabled people in the EU.
Although EU treaties guarantee freedom of movement of people, goods and services from one member state to another, disabled people still face an “alarmingly high” number of barriers which mean exercising those rights is “almost impossible”, says the report.
These include barriers to studying, looking for a job, travelling, buying mainstream goods and services or accessing information.
The report highlights the importance of introducing “portability” of disability benefits and personal assistance if freedom of movement is to become a reality for disabled people.
And it says that a new European Accessibility Act, which the European Commission plans to introduce later this year, must be “ambitious and legally binding”.
It also calls for a new European Mobility Card, which would allow disabled people the same concessions as disabled people in other EU countries – such as reduced-price theatre tickets or reduced fares – when they are travelling through or living in those countries.
The report includes contributions from many of the continent’s leading disabled activists, including John Evans, co-founder of the National Centre for Independent Living and now an EDF board member and an advisory board member of the European Network on Independent Living.
He says in the report: “Disabled people remain invisible compared to their non-disabled compatriots who have the freedom to move around Europe to work, study or travel and to access social security systems if necessary in whatever country of their choosing whenever they want.”
He says it is “blatant discrimination” that he is denied the opportunity to accept a job in another country purely because he would not be allowed to take his personal assistance package of support with him, which he believes contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Evans also points to disabled people forced to live in institutions as one of the most “extreme barriers” to freedom of movement across the EU.
Erik Olsen, an EDF executive committee member and a board member of the European Network of (ex-) Users and Survivors in Psychiatry, says in the report that the institutionalisation of disabled people was “in total contradiction with fundamental rights”.
He says: “One of the most extreme examples of barriers is that some persons with mental health issues are tied to a bed in an institution where they might live temporarily or permanently.
“Such degrading and violent measures can go on for hours. De-institutionalisation is an absolute precondition for freedom of movement.”