Moderated by the Catalina Devandas Aguilar, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, the panel discussion featured Katarina Ivanković Knežević Director of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Zhang Haidi, President of Rehabilitation International and Chairperson of the China Disabled Persons Federation and Facundo Chavez, Human Rights and Disability Advisor to the Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Chinese Ambassador Yu Jianhua opened the discussion by stressing how the implementation of human rights was a shared interest of many countries, including China and the EU. "More than 700 million people with disabilities live on the Euro-Asian continent", he said. "It is in our common interest to address this issue".
An estimated 1 billion people—15 percent of the global population—experience disability, and 1 in 5 of these individuals experience significant disabilities. As a group, persons with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty than their peers, to face food insecurity and poorer health outcomes, to be denied educational and employment opportunities, and to experience violence. Persons with disabilities must contend with inaccessible physical environments and transportation as well as inaccessible information and communication, including information and communications technologies. Women with disabilities are at heightened risk of violence, exploitation and abuse compared to other women. They are too often at a disadvantaged position among other things, in terms of inclusive education and training, employment, access to poverty reduction schemes, adequate housing and participation in political and public life. Moreover, a number of legislative acts prevent them from making decisions about their own lives and bodies.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which has been ratified across all regions and cultures – including by the European Union and all its Member States - recognizes that discrimination on the basis of disability is a "violation of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person".
"Equality is a central human rights issue and addressing discrimination based on any ground an immediate obligation of States", said EU Ambassador Stevens. "Making progress on inclusion entails a holistic approach to human rights. All rights are interdependent and mutually reinforcing", he added.
The CRPD affirms the inherent dignity and worth of persons with disabilities and is the guiding framework to address the impacts of exclusion, discrimination and segregation against this population group.
Persons with disabilities are disproportionately affected by poverty. Their exclusion from the labour market contributes significantly to explaining these poverty levels. "Of 85 million people with disabilities in China, more than 6.5 million live in poverty", said Zhang Haidi, President of Rehabilitation International and Chairperson of the China Disabled Persons Federation. "We need to address this issue, and have created new policy instruments to do so".
The EU promotes the active inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities in society. "A large part of our population is still facing obstacles that prevent them from fully exercising their rights because of disabilities", said Katarina Ivanković Knežević of the European Commission. One core area to step up towards inclusion is in regards to accessibility: making goods and services accessible to people with disabilities and promoting the market of assistive devices is a top priority for the EU. The EU Accessibility Act for example aims at facilitating the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in this area.
The EU promotes the active inclusion and full participation of persons with disabilities in society, in line with the EU human rights approach to disability issues. Disability is a rights issue and not a matter of discretion. This approach is also at the core of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which the EU is a party.
The European Commission's European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, adopted in 2010, builds on the UNCRPD. A Progress Report presenting the achievements, up to 2016, on the implementation of the Strategy has been published in February 2017. It lists some tangible successes and describes the implementation of the UNCRPD by the EU, including within the EU institutions. It also confirms the need for a European Strategy that will continue to deliver on its objectives, taking into account the UN Concluding Observations.
The objectives of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 are pursued by actions in eight priority areas:
1. Accessibility: make goods and services accessible to people with disabilities and promote the market of assistive devices.
2. Participation: ensure that people with disabilities enjoy all benefits of EU citizenship; remove barriers to equal participation in public life and leisure activities; promote the provision of quality community-based services.
3. Equality: combat discrimination based on disability and promote equal opportunities.
4. Employment: raise significantly the share of persons with disabilities working in the open labour market. They represent one-sixth of the EU's overall working-age population, but their employment rate is comparatively low.
5. Education and training: promote inclusive education and lifelong learning for students and pupils with disabilities. Equal access to quality education and lifelong learning enable disabled people to participate fully in society and improve their quality of life. The European Commission has launched several educational initiatives for disabled people. These include the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education as well as a specific study group on disability and lifelong learning.
6. Social protection: promote decent living conditions, combat poverty and social exclusion.
7. Health: promote equal access to health services and related facilities.
8. External action: promote the rights of people with disabilities in the EU enlargement and international development programmes.
The Commission also supports the Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED), which provides the Commission with analysis of national situations, policies and data. ANED also manages the DOTCOM Online Tool that provides an overview of the key instruments in the Member States and in the EU needed for the implementation of the UNCRPD. The creation of the Tool was one of the actions foreseen in the List of Actions (2010-2015) accompanying the European Disability Strategy. Published in May 2012, the DOTCOM Tool is being updated every year.