The European Union needs to get serious about upholding the rights of people with disabilities, United Nations warns

Not good enough. Three words to summarize the track record of the European Union (EU) in upholding the rights of people with disabilities, as made clear by the United Nations (UN) this week.  The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reviewed the measures taken by the EU to ensure that the rights of people with disabilities are considered in all policies and relevant legislative proposals, and noted with concern that, in many areas, the European Union is systematically failing.

People with disabilities are involuntarily restrained in institutions, on the basis of actual or perceived impairments, the Committee highlighted, while involuntary treatment, including forced sterilisation and abortion are not things of the past in the European Union. Persons with disabilities are discriminated in judicial proceedings, and many students with disabilities are denied access to quality inclusive education.

These Concluding Observations mark the end of a year-long process of examining EU’s progress of implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Every step of the wayInclusion Europe consistently highlighted problematic areas, whether they related to people with intellectual disabilities being unable to vote in EU elections, having been deprived of legal capacity, or women with disabilities disproportionately suffering from domestic violence or being forcibly sterilised in long-stay institutions.

These are among the issues the United Nations has rightly emphasized, in a document likely to foster meaningful change in the European Union’s approach to disability. The United Nations made it clear that strong measures should be urgently taken, and that they expect concrete results. In the area of legal capacity, for example, the European Union was asked to ensure that all persons with disabilities under guardianship can exercise all the rights enshrined in European Union treaties, including on access to justice, to goods and services, and to healthcare, as well as voting and consumer rights. The Committee also asked the EU to step up efforts in research, data collection and exchange of good practices on supported decision-making, in consultation with representative organisations of persons with disabilities. In the area of education, the European Union must take measures to facilitate access to, and enjoyment of, inclusive quality schooling for all students with disabilities, and include disability-specific indicators in the Europe 2020 Strategy when pursuing the target on education. The EU shall also promptly adopt a European Accessibility Act, but not without ensuring the participation of persons with disabilities, through their representative organisations, in reviewing the draft legislation, before the adoption of the final text.

Inclusion Europe fully supports the UN Concluding Observations, and welcomes the clear focus and strong language of the requests. But they should not stop here. For the next periodic review, it is important for the European Commission to provide disaggregated data about the impact of legal capacity legislation on the access of EU citizens to their rights at European level, as well as reliable statistical information as to how many European citizens were excluded from European elections in the different Member States and for which reasons.

When it comes to disability, the European Institutions have a lot of work ahead of them. We hope the Concluding Observations will offer yet another wake-up call, a sobering realisation that the European Union is not the human rights heaven it often portrays itself as. The ball is now in their court, and millions of people with disabilities are watching and waiting.

For more information, please contact Silvana Enculescu, Inclusion Europe Communications Manager, at