It is time for the European Disability Strategy to become a real instrument for change

What has been done in the last 5 years to improve the lives of persons with disabilities in the European Union? To the question asked by the European Commission, the answer from persons with intellectual disabilities and their families is “not much”.

“We have a lower life expectancy than others within Scotland, on average we die 20 years younger” says a self-advocate from Scotland. Indeed, the reality for many persons with intellectual disabilities in Europe is that obstacles, such as discrimination and exclusion, still prevent them from being able to enjoy their full and equal rights and to participate fully in their communities as defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Inclusion Europe has welcomed the public consultation launched by the European Commission on the mid-term review of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 last December. We have collected the opinion of our members on the challenges they face in their everyday lives in the areas covered by the European Disability Strategy. Persons with intellectual disabilities and family members expressed their concerns and made recommendations to the European Union on how to address these challenges.

Europeans with intellectual disabilities are still involuntarily restrained in institutions where they face violations of human rights, such as forced treatment. Often placed under guardianship, they cannot make decisions on their own and are prevented from choosing where and with whom to live, signing a work contract or opening a bank account. Excluded from the labour market, many of them live under the poverty line, which only deepens their social exclusion and marginalisation. Many students with intellectual disabilities are excluded from mainstream schools, and either segregated in special schools or denied access to education completely. Thus, persons with intellectual disabilities still don’t have access to justice, to education, to goods and services, and to healthcare on an equal basis as others.

These are among the issues that our membership has rightly emphasised. Most of these struggles are due to the deprivation of legal capacity for persons with intellectual disabilities. Being placed under guardianship negatively affects many other fundamental rights, including the right to marry, the right to vote or the right to decide how to spend your money. Without the guarantee of legal capacity, European citizens with intellectual disabilities will never be able to fully participate in society and in the community. Therefore, Inclusion Europe calls the European Commission to use this mid-term assessment to include legal capacity as a new area for action in the European Disability Strategy in order to bring real change in the lives of all persons with intellectual disability.

Furthermore, persons with disabilities should not represent a variable for financial adjustment in times of hardship. Since 2010, the economic crisis has affected all Europeans citizens but even more severely the already vulnerable group of persons with disabilities. Austerity measures and cuts have affected care and support services for persons with disabilities, with disastrous consequences on their daily lives. We call the European Commission to ensure that no economic factor will hinder the enjoyment of human rights for persons with disabilities.

In its submission, Inclusion Europe has underlined the lived experiences of persons with intellectual disabilities to draw the European Commission’s attention to the significant challenges they still face on a daily basis. We truly hope that the mid-term review of the European Disability Strategy will lead to concrete actions and the development of benchmarks and indicators to effectively assess the improvement in the areas covered by the Strategy. Only effective measures could lead to a completely barrier-free Europe for persons with disabilities by 2020.

Please read Inclusion Europe’s contribution to the mid-term review of the European Disability Strategy here.

For more information, please contact Inclusion Europe’s Secretariat at