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/* COM/2010/0636 final */
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Brussels, 15.11.2010

COM(2010) 636 final


European Disability Strategy 2010-2020:

A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe

{SEC(2010) 1323}

{SEC(2010) 1324}


European Disability Strategy 2010-2020:

A Renewed Commitment to a Barrier-Free Europe


1. Introduction (...)3

2. Objectives and actions (...)4

2.1. Areas for action (...)5

2.2. Implementation of the Strategy (...)9

3. Conclusion (...)11

1. Introduction

One in six people in the European Union (EU) has a disability [1] that ranges from mild to severe making around 80 million who are often prevented from taking part fully in society and the economy because of environmental and attitudinal barriers. For people with disabilities the rate of poverty is 70 % higher than the average [2] partly due to limited access to employment.

Over a third of people aged over 75 have disabilities that restrict them to some extent, and over 20 % are considerably restricted [3]. Furthermore, these numbers are set to rise as the EU's population ages.

The EU and its Member States have a strong mandate to improve the social and economic situation of people with disabilities.

· Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (the Charter) states that ‘Human dignity is inviolable. It must be respected and protected.’ Article 26 states that ‘the EU recognises and respects the right of persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community.’ In addition, Article 21 prohibits any discrimination on the basis of disability.

· The Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) requires the Union to combat discrimination based on disability when defining and implementing its policies and activities (Article 10) and gives it the power to adopt legislation to address such discrimination (Article 19).

· The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the UN Convention), the first legally-binding international human rights instrument to which the EU and its Member States are parties, will soon apply throughout the EU [4]. The UN Convention requires States Parties to protect and safeguard all human rights and fundamental freedoms of persons with disabilities.

According to the UN Convention, people with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

The Commission will work together with the Member States to tackle the obstacles to a barrier-free Europe, taking up recent European Parliament and Council resolutions [5]. This Strategy provides a framework for action at European level, as well as with national action to address the diverse situation of men, women and children with disabilities.

Full economic and social participation of people with disabilities is essential if the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy [6] is to succeed in creating smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Building a society that includes everyone also brings market opportunities and fosters innovation. There is a strong business case for making services and products accessible to all, given the demand from a growing number of ageing consumers. For example, the EU market for assistive devices (with an estimated annual value of over € 30 billion [7]) is still fragmented, and the devices are expensive. Policy and regulatory frameworks do not reflect the needs of people with disabilities adequately, neither do product and service development. Many goods and services, as well as much of the built environment, are still not accessible enough.

The economic downturn has had an adverse impact on the situation of people with disabilities, making it all the more urgent to act. This Strategy aims to improve the lives of individuals, as well as bringing wider benefits for society and the economy without undue burden on industry and administrations.

2. Objectives and actions

The overall aim of this Strategy is to empower people with disabilities so that they can enjoy their full rights, and benefit fully from participating in society and in the European economy, notably through the Single market. Achieving this and ensuring effective implementation of the UN Convention across the EU calls for consistency. This Strategy identifies actions at EU level to supplement national ones, and it determines the mechanisms [8] needed to implement the UN Convention at EU level, including inside the EU institutions. It also identifies the support needed for funding, research, awareness-raising, statistics and data collection.

This Strategy focuses on eliminating barriers [9]. The Commission has identified eight main areas for action: Accessibility, Participation, Equality, Employment, Education and training, Social protection, Health, and External Action. For each area, key actions are identified, with the overarching EU-level objective highlighted in a box. These areas were selected on the basis of their potential to contribute to the overall objectives of the Strategy and of the UN Convention, the related policy documents from EU institutions and the Council of Europe, as well as the results of the EU Disability Action Plan 2003-2010, and a consultation of the Member States, stakeholders and the general public. The references to national actions are intended to supplement action at EU level, rather than to cover all national obligations under the UN Convention. The Commission will also tackle the situation of people with disabilities through the Europe 2020 strategy, its flagship initiatives and the relaunch of the single market.

2.1. Areas for action

1 — Accessibility

'Accessibility' is defined as meaning that people with disabilities have access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, transportation, information and communications technologies and systems (ICT), and other facilities and services. There are still major barriers in all of these areas. For example, on average in the EU-27, only 5% of public websites comply fully with web accessibility standards, though more are partially accessible. Many television broadcasters still provide few subtitled and audio-described programmes [10].

Accessibility is a precondition for participation in society and in the economy, but the EU still has a long way to go in achieving this. The Commission proposes to use legislative and other instruments, such as standardisation, to optimise the accessibility of the built environment, transport and ICT in line with the Digital Agenda and Innovation Union flagships. Based on smarter regulation principles, it will explore the merits of adopting regulatory measures to ensure accessibility of products and services, including measures to step up the use of public procurement (proven to be very effective in the US [11]). It will encourage the incorporation of accessibility and ‘design for all’ in educational curricula and training for relevant professions. It will also foster an EU-wide market for assistive technology. Following further consultations with Member States and other stakeholders, the Commission will consider whether to propose a ‘European Accessibility Act’ by 2012. This could include developing specific standards for particular sectors to substantially improve the proper functioning of the internal market for accessible products and services.

EU action will support and supplement national activities for implementing accessibility and removing existing barriers, and improving the availability and choice of assistive technologies.

Ensure accessibility to goods, services including public services and assistive devices for people with disabilities. |

2 — Participation

There are still many obstacles preventing people with disabilities from fully exercising their fundamental rights - including their Union citizenship rights - and limiting their participation in society on an equal basis with others. Those rights include the right to free movement, to choose where and how to live, and to have full access to cultural, recreational, and sports activities. For example a person with a recognised disability moving to another EU country can lose access to national benefits, such as free or reduced-cost public transport.

The Commission will work to:

– overcome the obstacles to exercising their rights as individuals, consumers, students, economic and political actors; tackle the problems related to intra-EU mobility and facilitate and promote the use of the European model of disability parking card;

– promote the transition from institutional to community-based care by: using Structural Funds and the Rural Development Fund to support the development of community-based services and raising awareness of the situation of people with disabilities living in residential institutions, in particular children and elderly people;

– improve the accessibility of sports, leisure, cultural and recreational organisations, activities, events, venues, goods and services including audiovisual ones; promote participation in sports events and the organisation of disability-specific ones; explore ways of facilitating the use of sign language and Braille in dealing with the EU institutions; address accessibility to voting in order to facilitate the exercise of EU citizens' electoral rights; foster the cross-border transfer of copyright works in accessible format; promote use of the scope for exceptions provided by the Directive on copyright [12].

EU action will support national activities to:

– achieve the transition from institutional to community-based care, including use of Structural Funds and the Rural Development Fund for training human resources and adapting social infrastructure, developing personal assistance funding schemes, promoting sound working conditions for professional carers and support for families and informal carers;

– make sports, leisure, cultural and recreational organisations and activities accessible, and use the possibilities for exceptions in the Directive on copyright.

Achieve full participation of people with disabilities in society by:- enabling them to enjoy all the benefits of EU citizenship;- removing administrative and attitudinal barriers to full and equal participation;- providing quality community-based services, including access to personal assistance. |

3 — Equality

Over half of all Europeans consider discrimination on grounds of disability or age to be widespread in the EU [13]. As required by Articles 1, 21 and 26 of the EU Charter and by Articles 10 and 19 TFEU, the Commission will promote the equal treatment of people with disabilities through a two-pronged approach. This will involve using existing EU legislation to provide protection from discrimination, and implementing an active policy to combat discrimination and promote equal opportunities in EU policies. The Commission will also pay attention to the cumulative impact of discrimination that people with disabilities may experience on other grounds, such as nationality, age, race or ethnicity, sex, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.

It will also ensure that Directive 2000/78/EC [14] banning discrimination in employment is fully implemented; it will promote diversity and combat discrimination through awareness-raising campaigns at EU and national level, and support the work of EU-level NGOs active in the area.

EU action will support and supplement national policies and programmes to promote equality, for instance by promoting the conformity of Member State legislation on legal capacity with the UN Convention.

Eradicate discrimination on grounds of disability in the EU. |

4 — Employment

Quality jobs ensure economic independence, foster personal achievement, and offer the best protection against poverty. However, the rate of employment for people with disabilities is only around 50% [15]. To achieve the EU’s growth targets, more people with disabilities need to be in paid employment on the open labour market. The Commission will exploit the full potential of the Europe 2020 Strategy and its Agenda for new skills and jobs by providing Member States with analysis, political guidance, information exchange and other support. It will improve knowledge of the employment situation of women and men with disabilities, identify challenges and propose remedies. It will pay particular attention to young people with disabilities in their transition from education to employment. It will address intra-job mobility on the open labour market and in sheltered workshops, through information exchange and mutual learning. It will also address the issue of self employment and quality jobs, including aspects such as working conditions and career advancement, with the involvement of the social partners. The Commission will step up its support for voluntary initiatives that promote diversity management at the workplace, such as diversity charters signed by employers and a Social Business Initiative.

EU action will support and supplement national efforts to: analyse the labour market situation of people with disabilities; fight those disability benefit cultures and traps that discourage them from entering the labour market; help their integration in the labour market making use of the European Social Fund (ESF); develop active labour market policies; make workplaces more accessible; develop services for job placement, support structures and on-the-job training; promote use of the General Block Exemption Regulation [16] which allows the granting of state aid without prior notification to the Commission.

Enable many more people with disabilities to earn their living on the open labour market. |

5 — Education and training

In the 16-19 age group the rate of non-participation in education is 37 % for considerably restricted people, and 25 % for those restricted to some extent, against 17 % for those not restricted [17]. Access to mainstream education for children with severe disabilities is difficult and sometimes segregated. People with disabilities, in particular children, need to be integrated appropriately into the general education system and provided with individual support in the best interest of the child. With full respect for the responsibility of the Member States for the content of teaching and the organisation of education systems, the Commission will support the goal of inclusive, quality education and training under the Youth on the Move initiative. It will increase knowledge on levels of education and opportunities for people with disabilities, and increase their mobility by facilitating participation in the Lifelong Learning Programme.

EU action will support national efforts through ET 2020, the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training [18], to remove legal and organisational barriers for people with disabilities to general education and lifelong learning systems; provide timely support for inclusive education and personalised learning, and early identification of special needs; provide adequate training and support for professionals working at all levels of education and report on participation rates and outcomes.

Promote inclusive education and lifelong learning for pupils and students with disabilities. |

6 –Social protection

Lower participation in general education and in the labour market lead to income inequalities and poverty for people with disabilities, as well as to social exclusion and isolation. They need to be able to benefit from social protection systems and poverty reduction programmes, disability-related assistance, public housing programmes and other enabling services, and retirement and benefit programmes. The Commission will pay attention to these issues through the European Platform against Poverty. This will include assessing the adequacy and sustainability of social protection systems and support through the ESF. In full respect of the competence of the Member States, the EU will support national measures to ensure the quality and sustainability of social protection systems for people with disabilities, notably through policy exchange and mutual learning.

Promote decent living conditions for people with disabilities. |

7 — Health

People with disabilities may have limited access to health services, including routine medical treatments, leading to health inequalities unrelated to their disabilities. They are entitled to equal access to healthcare, including preventive healthcare, and specific affordable quality health and rehabilitation services which take their needs into account, including gender-based needs. This is mainly the task of the Member States, which are responsible for organising and delivering health services and medical care. The Commission will support policy developments for equal access to healthcare, including quality health and rehabilitation services designed for people with disabilities. It will pay specific attention to people with disabilities when implementing policies to tackle health inequalities; promote action in the field of health and safety at work to reduce risks of disabilities developing during working life and to improve the reintegration of workers with disabilities [19]; and work to prevent those risks.

EU action will support national measures to deliver accessible, non-discriminatory health services and facilities; promote awareness of disabilities in medical schools and in curricula for healthcare professionals; provide adequate rehabilitation services; promote mental health services and the development of early intervention and needs assessment services.

Foster equal access to health services and related facilities for people with disabilities. |

8 — External action

The EU and the Member States should promote the rights of people with disabilities in their external action, including EU enlargement, neighbourhood and development programmes. The Commission will work where appropriate within a broader framework of non discrimination to highlight disability as a human rights issue in the EU’s external action; raise awareness of the UN Convention and the needs of people with disabilities, including accessibility, in the area of emergency and humanitarian aid; consolidate the network of disability correspondents, increasing awareness of disability issues in EU delegations; ensure that candidate and potential candidate countries make progress in promoting the rights of people with disabilities and ensure that the financial instruments for pre-accession assistance are used to improve their situation.

EU action will support and complement national initiatives to address disability issues in dialogues with non-member countries, and where appropriate include disability and the implementation of the UN Convention taking into account the Accra commitments on aid-effectiveness. It will foster agreement and commitment on disability issues in international fora (UN, Council of Europe, OECD).

Promote the rights of people with disabilities within the EU external action. |

2.2. Implementation of the Strategy

This Strategy requires a joint and renewed commitment of the EU institutions and all Member States. The actions in the main areas above need to be underpinned by the following general instruments:

1 — Awareness-raising

The Commission will work to ensure that people with disabilities are aware of their rights, paying special attention to accessibility of materials and information channels. It will promote awareness of ‘design for all’ approaches to products, services and environments.

EU action will support and supplement national public awareness campaigns on the capabilities and contributions of people with disabilities and promote exchange of good practices in the Disability High Level Group (DHLG).

Raise society’s awareness of disability issues and foster greater knowledge among people with disabilities of their rights and how to exercise them. |

2 — Financial support

The Commission will work to ensure that EU programmes in policy areas relevant to people with disabilities offer funding possibilities, for example in research programmes. The cost of measures to enable people with disabilities to take part in EU programmes should be eligible for reimbursement. EU funding instruments, particularly the Structural Funds, need to be implemented in an accessible and non-discriminatory way.

EU action will support and supplement national efforts to improve accessibility and combat discrimination through mainstream funding, proper application of Article 16 of the Structural Funds General Regulation [20], and by maximising requirements regarding accessibility in public procurement. All measures should be implemented in accordance with European competition law, in particular State aid rules.

Optimise use of EU funding instruments for accessibility and non-discrimination and increase visibility of disability-relevant funding possibilities in post-2013 programmes. |

3 — Statistics and data collection and monitoring

The Commission will work to streamline information on disability collected through EU social surveys (EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions, Labour Force Survey ad hoc module, European Health Interview Survey), develop a specific survey on barriers for social integration of disabled people and present a set of indicators to monitor their situation with reference to key Europe 2020 targets (education, employment and poverty reduction). The EU Fundamental Rights Agency is requested to contribute to this task, within the framework of its mandate, by data collection, research and analysis.

The Commission will also establish a web-based tool giving an overview of the practical measures and legislation used to implement the UN Convention.

EU action will support and supplement Member States’ efforts to collect statistics and data that reflect the barriers preventing people with disabilities from exercising their rights.

Supplement the collection of periodic disability-related statistics with a view to monitoring the situation of persons with disabilities. |

4 — Mechanisms required by the UN Convention

The governance framework required under Article 33 of the UN Convention (focal points, coordination mechanism, independent mechanism and involvement of people with disabilities and their organisations) needs to be addressed on two levels: vis-à-vis the Member States in a wide range of EU policies, and within EU institutions. At EU level, mechanisms for coordination based on existing facilities will be established both between the Commission services and the EU institutions, and between the EU and the Member States. The implementation of this Strategy and of the UN Convention will be regularly discussed at the DHLG with representatives of the Member States and their national focal points, the Commission, disabled people and their organisations and other stakeholders. It will continue to provide progress reports for informal ministerial meetings.

Also, a monitoring framework including one or more independent mechanisms will be established to promote, protect and monitor implementation of the UN Convention. After the UN Convention is concluded and after considering the possible role of a number of existing EU bodies and institutions, the Commission will propose a governance framework without undue administrative burden to facilitate implementation of the UN Convention in Europe.

By the end of 2013, the Commission will report on progress achieved through this Strategy, covering implementation of actions, national progress and the EU report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [21]. The Commission will use statistics and data collection to illustrate changes in disparities between people with disabilities and the population as a whole, and to establish disability-related indicators linked to the Europe 2020 targets for education, employment and poverty reduction. This will provide an opportunity to revise the Strategy and the actions. A further report is scheduled for 2016.

3. Conclusion

This Strategy is intended to harness the combined potential of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and the UN Convention, and to make full use of Europe 2020 and its instruments. It sets in motion a process to empower people with disabilities, so that they can participate fully in society on an equal basis with others. As Europe’s population ages, these actions will have a tangible impact on the quality of life of an increasingly large proportion of its people. The EU institutions and the Member States are called upon to work together under this Strategy to build a barrier-free Europe for all.

[1] EU Labour Force Survey ad hoc module on employment of disabled people (LFS AHM), 2002.

[2] EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), 2004.

[3] LFS AHM and EU- SILC 2007.

[4] Agreed in 2007 and signed by all Member States and the EU; ratified by October 2010 by 16 Member States (BE, CZ, DK, DE, ES, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, AT, PT, SI, SK, SE, UK) while the rest are in the process of doing so. The UN Convention will be binding on the EU and will form part of the EU legal order.

[5] Council Resolutions (SOC 375 of 2 June 2010) and 2008/C 75/01 and European Parliament Resolution B6-0194/2009, P6_TA(2009)0334.

[6] COM(2010) 2020.

[7] Deloitte & Touche, Access to Assistive Technology in the EU, 2003, and BCC Research, 2008.

[8] Article 33 UN Convention.

[9] 2006 Eurobarometer: 91 % find that more money should be spent on eliminating physical barriers for people with disabilities.

[10] EC (2007), SEC(2007) 1469, p. 7.

[11] Section 508 of Rehabilitation Act and Architectural Barriers Act.

[12] Directive 2001/29/EC. A Stakeholder Memorandum of Understanding signed on 14.9.2009.

[13] Special Eurobarometer 317.

[14] Council Directive 2000/78/EC (OJ L 303, 2.12.2000, p. 16).

[15] LFS AHM 2002.

[16] Commission Regulation (EC) No 800/2008 (OJ L 214, 9.8.2008, p. 3).

[17] LFS AHM 2002.

[18] Council conclusions of 12 May 2009 on ET 2020 (OJ C 119, 28.5.2009, p. 2).

[19] EU Strategy on Health and Safety at Work 2007-2012 - COM(2007) 62.

[20] Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 (OJ L 210, 31.7.2006, p. 25).

[21] Articles 35 and 36 UN Convention.