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The European Commission

Directorate general for Employment and social affairs


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The New Disability Policy Framework

From the accommodation of people with disabilities to the accommodation of society

The traditional approach to disability policy has been based on the belief that disability is a deviation from normality. In this context, the policy orientation adopted by society is one of rehabilitation; the aim of which is to help compensate for the deviation and to encourage the disabled person to function as near as possible to the social norm. Currently this relationship between disability and "normality" is undergoing a revolution; a revolution instigated primarily by disabled people themselves. In this respect, it is increasingly being recognised on a global scale that human difference should be embraced as a phenomena which is both natural and beneficial to human society.

A society, therefore, which is truly concerned with human rights is believed to be one which defends the right of its minorities to be different and does not compel those minorities to adjust to an artificial "norm" constructed by a perceived majority. Given these beliefs, the limitations faced by disabled individuals are no longer linked to their disabilities as such, but to society’s inability to adjust to the difference posed by disability and to provide equality of opportunity to all citizens and provide equality of opportunity to all citizens.

This new approach is based on the notion of right rather than charity and an accommodation for difference rather than a compulsory adjustment to an artificial norm. The new approach, therefore, advocates a full notion of equal citizenship and inclusion rather than segregation and exclusion; an approach reflected in 1993, when the United National General Assembly, including all EU members states, adopted a resolution entitled Standard Rules for the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disability.

The main principles of disability policy emerging from the Standard Rules might be summarised as a general shift in approach from disability as a medical issue to one of disability as as human rights issue, the replacement of an ethos of compensation for perceived abnormalities by one of the removal by society of barriers to inclusion of all its members and a by new emphasis on the need to mainstream actions, that is, including a disability dimension in policy recommendations covering a wide spectrum of social and economic concerns. Although non-compulsory, the Standard rules offer a strong moral and political impetus to take specific action at all level of government.