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Equal opportunities for people with disabilities
The aim of these two texts is to promote equal opportunities for people with disabilities by incorporating disability issues into Community policies and to consolidate cooperation between Member States in preventing all forms of discrimination on grounds of disability.
Communication of the Commission of 30 July 1996 on equality of opportunity for people with disabilities: A New European Community Disability Strategy [COM(96) 406 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
Resolution of the Council and of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States meeting within the Council of 20 December 1996 on equality of opportunity for people with disabilities [Official Journal C 12 of 13.01.1997].
One out of ten citizens in the European Community has a disability, which may be of a physical, sensory, mental or psychic nature.
There are still a number of obstacles to the integration of people with disabilities into society:
- in education, many children with disabilities are excluded from mainstream schools and are confined to institutions which give them no opportunity for normal social interaction;
- in the field of employment, a great number of people with disabilities within the working age are excluded from the labour market; they are also two to three times more likely to be unemployed and to be so for longer periods than the rest of the working population;
- many transport systems and public buildings continue to be inaccessible or accessible only with difficulty to people with disabilities;
- as regards housing, suitably adapted or adaptable accommodation is in short supply and prohibitively expensive;
- welfare systems tend to provide a minimum level of support, falling some way short of achieving the goal of integration.
Historically, the response to disability has been mainly one of social compensation through charity and the development of specialist caring services outside the mainstream of society. However necessary and well intentioned they might be, such responses have compounded the problem of exclusion and under-participation.
The traditional approaches are slowly giving way to a stronger emphasis on identifying and removing the various barriers to equal opportunities and full participation in all aspects of life.
Responsibility for eliminating exclusion and discrimination based on disability lies primarily with the Member States. The new approach is already being implemented in all the Member States, in different ways and at different speeds.
The Commission considers that Community-level involvement can bring significant added value to the efforts of the Member States. The strategy will be organised along the following lines:
- consolidation of the cooperation with and between the Member States: establishment of a high-level group of Member State representatives on disability,
- development of social dialogue focusing on disability-related issues;
- continued support for non-governmental organisations working in the field of disability to encourage European cooperation;
- incorporation of disability issues into the formulation of Community policy proposals: an interdepartmental group focussed on issues relating to disability has been set up by the Commission.
- strengthening of measures to prevent long-term unemployment and to integrate disabled people into working life in line with the European employment strategy;
- assessment of the extent and impact of Structural Fund action targeting people with disabilities, with particular reference to combating social exclusion.
The Council reaffirms its commitment to equal opportunities for people with disabilities and to the principle of avoiding or abolishing all forms of negative discrimination based solely on disability.
The Council calls upon the Member States to ascertain whether their policies take account of the need to eliminate all obstacles to full participation in social life by disabled people and to educate public opinion to be receptive to the abilities of disabled people. Member States are equally encouraged to promote the participation of disabled people in the implementing and following-up of the policies and relevant actions.
The Council calls upon the Commission to integrate the dimension of "equality of opportunity for people with disabilities" into all its relevant proposals and to encourage the exchange of useful information and experience, particularly with regard to innovative policies and good practice. The Commission is also called upon to present periodic reports summarising the progress made and obstacles encountered in implementing the resolution on the basis of information supplied by the Member States.