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Equal opportunities for people with disabilities: a European action plan (2004-2010)
Building on the momentum created and the results achieved in 2003 by the "European Year of People with Disabilities", the Commission plans to introduce a multiannual action plan through to 2010, aimed at mainstreaming disability issues in the relevant Community policies and implementing specific measures in key areas with a view to enhancing the economic and social integration of people with disabilities.
Commission Communication of 30 October 2003, Equal opportunities for people with disabilities: a European action plan [COM(2003) 650 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The proposed action plan, covering the period from 2004 to 2010, seeks to set out a sustainable and operational approach to disability issues in the enlarged Europe. It has three central objectives:
- to implement fully the Directive on equal treatment in employment and occupation;
- to reinforce mainstreaming of disability issues in the relevant Community policies;
- to improve accessibility for all.
The overall Community approach: objectives and means
The main purpose of the action plan is to recognise and protect the rights of people with disabilities. Moreover, the Charter of Fundamental Rights specifically protects the rights of people with disabilities, and its incorporation into the future Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe will be a major advance.
In accordance with the Commission's communication of May 2000 "Towards a barrier-free Europe for people with disabilities", the environmental, technical and legal obstacles to the effective participation of people with disabilities in a knowledge-based economy and society must be removed.
Facts and trends
The definitions and criteria applying to disability are currently laid down in national legislation and differ from one Member State to another.
According to the results of surveys carried out in 2001 at EU level, 14.5% of the population of the 15 Member States (with the exception of Sweden) of working age (16 to 64) reported some form of disability.
In the case of the ten new acceding States, this percentage amounts to 25%.
These results also highlight the fact that there is a correlation between ageing and disability. Owing to the ageing of the population and improvements in health care, the number of people with disabilities in the European Union is increasing and will continue to do so.
A further point to note is that only 42% of people with disabilities are employed (compared to almost 65% of non-disabled people), and 52% of people with disabilities are economically inactive (compared to 28% of non-disabled people).
The conclusion to be drawn is that people with disabilities, while experiencing difficulties in finding work, are a source of untapped potential for the development of economic growth.
Main Community-level achievements
In November 2000, the Council adopted Directive 2000/78/EC prohibiting all discrimination, whether direct or indirect, based on religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation, as regards access to employment. Where disability is concerned, this Directive recognises that the failure to provide "reasonable accommodation" in the workplace can constitute discrimination.
The Community action programme to combat discrimination (2001-06) aims to support the Member States in their fight against discrimination, including disability-related aspects.
The Commission supports international efforts geared to ensuring that fundamental rights are enjoyed fully and equally by people with disabilities. The Commission thus backs the United Nations Convention for promoting and protecting the rights of people with disabilities (see communication entitled " Towards a United Nations legally binding instrument to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities ").
With a view to facilitating the free movement of people with disabilities, the Commission has already undertaken to reduce the number of disability benefits that are not exportable from one Member State to another (proposed amendment of Regulation (EEC) No 883/2004 on social security schemes).
First phase of the action plan (2004-2005)
The first phase of this action plan, covering a two-year period (2004-05), will concentrate on creating the conditions necessary to promote the employment of people with disabilities, granting them appropriate autonomy in this regard.
The priority action areas come under four headings:
- Access to, and remaining in, employment
Directive 2000/78/EC requires certain Member States to alter their existing rules considerably. It has huge implications for employers - public and private - and their employment practices as regards people with disabilities. Effective application of this Directive depends on the key players being made aware of their duties and responsibilities.
The main European Social Fund programmes and the Community initiative EQUAL finance a wide range of measures aimed at integrating people with disabilities into the labour market, while taking innovative approaches to specific aspects of such integration.
The Commission has also taken action in the field of competition policy with the adoption, in November 2002, of a Regulation on State aid for employment, allowing the Member States to finance up to 60% of annual wage costs and social security contributions when companies recruit disabled workers. Aid may also be granted to compensate for reduced productivity or to adapt premises.
As regards health and safety at work, Directive 89/654/EC concerning minimum safety and health requirements for the workplace provides that "workplaces must be accommodated to take account, where required, of the needs of disabled workers".
- Lifelong learning
The use of modern information and communication technologies (ICT) providing on-line instruction or "eLearning" can be one way of overcoming the barriers to education, training and learning on a lifelong basis that are faced by people with disabilities. The Commission's proposed eLearning programme therefore refers expressly to the needs of people with disabilities, as do the action plans on language learning and linguistic diversity, and on skills and mobility.
The Commission will have to pursue various lines of action in the fields of education, training and youth:
- give high priority to promoting exchanges of good practice and identifying factors of success (or failure) in relation to the integration of people with disabilities, in connection with the implementation of the work programme on the objectives of education and training syatems;
- pay particular attention, in terms of the design and implementation of the future eLearning action programme (2004-06), to the special needs of people with disabilities;
- include people with disabilities as a target group in the PLOTEUS information system;
- pay particular attention to projects involving people with disabilities in the Socrates, Leonardo and Youth programmes;
- monitor the e-accessibility of websites and media products for lifelong learning.
On the research front, the Commission will disseminate and exploit the results of studies forming part of the Sixth Framework Research Programme (6FP).
- Harnessing the potential of new technologies
Activities relating to accessibility, under the e-Europe 2002 action plan, gave some good results and ought to be followed up. Further to the W3C/WAI initiative, the Member States have adopted accessibility guidelines for public websites. The Council also adopted a resolution on e-accessibility in December 2002.
The eEurope 2005 action plan will seek to ensure that people with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups can participate in and have equal access to major innovations in on-line public services, covering e-government, e-learning and e-health, and also to create a dynamic, accessible e-business environment.
- Accessibility to the public built environment
The design and construction of buildings in compliance with the principle of universal design ("design-for-all") ought to be stepped up so that people with disabilities are guaranteed better and effective access to the workplace.
The availability of accessible cultural and leisure facilities is also essential for improving the quality of life of people with disabilities. The Council recognised this in its resolution of 6 May 2003 on accessibility of cultural infrastructure and cultural activities for people with disabilities. Likewise, in its resolution of 21 May 2002 on the future of European tourism, the Council called on the Commission, the Member States and other interested parties to step up their efforts to facilitate accessibility to tourist sites for people with disabilities.
Moreover, in its White Paper entitled "European transport policy for 2010: time to decide", the Commission advocates greater use of accessible public transport.
The Commission ought to take further action in the following areas:
- promotion of European standards in relation to all aspects of the built environment, including the planning, design, construction and use of buildings;
- promotion of better education on accessibility issues in schools and among professionals;
- incorporation of accessibility provisions in public procurement policies, taking this dimension into account also in the allocation of the Structural Funds;
- encouragement for the development of studies into the accessibility of tourist sites and infrastructure, and of urban transport systems.
Second phase of the action plan (2006-2007)
The second phase of the action plan, covering a two-year period (2006-07), will focus on active inclusion and autonomy (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). It proposes four priorities:
- Encouraging activity
- Promoting access to quality support and care services
- Fostering accessibility of goods and services for all
- Increasing the EU's analytical capacity
MONITORING AND FOLLOW-UP STRUCTURE
Improving executive capacity
The Commission's Inter-service Group dealing with disability issues is responsible for advancing the action plan and monitoring the mainstreaming activities of the various Commission departments. It also has to give a progress report to the Equal Opportunities Group of Commissioners.
The European High-Level Group for matters relating to disability (expert group chaired by the Commission, bringing together specialists from the Member States) has the task of developing greater interaction between national policies.
The Union will step up its cooperation with organisations such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the European Standards Organisations (e.g. CEN), the European Special Needs Education Agency and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, so as to build mutually rewarding relationships and to benefit from their expertise and their think-tank work.
The Commission proposes to enhance its cooperation with the representatives of associations for people with disabilities, in particular with the European Disability Forum. It also wants the High-Level Group to conduct exchanges of views more frequently with civil society. The social partners should, moreover, be invited to make a full contribution to the promotion of equality for people with disabilities.
The Commission will encourage inter-institutional cooperation amongst EU institutions and bodies, in particular with the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and its Disability Intergroup.
Commission report on the situation of people with disabilities
The Commission's report on people with disabilities should draw specific attention to the efforts made under Community policies to promote equal opportunities for people with disabilities. Key contributions from the Member States will set out their achievements, particularly as regards mainstreaming disability issues in all relevant national policies. The Commission is to compile public reports every two years, in line with a structure established with the Member States and representatives of people with disabilities.