On 15 November 2010 the European Commission adopted a new strategy to break down the barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from participating in society on an equal basis.
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Most people take it for granted that they can hop on a bus to go shopping, visit friends, to see a play or a sports game. Surfing the Internet or enjoying a TV show are taken for granted, as is the right to vote in elections. But for the 80 million Europeans with a disability, there may be major obstacles that put these activities out of reach.
The strategy outlines how the EU and national governments can empower people with disabilities so they can enjoy their rights. Specific measures over the next decade range from the study on mutual recognition of national disability cards, the promotion of standardisation to a more targeted use of public procurement and state aid rules.
These measures will have substantial societal benefits, but should also produce a knock-on effect on Europe's economy. They could for example enhance the EU market for assisted devices and services, which already today has an estimated annual value of over €30 billion.
The main actions are:
- Accessibility initiative: considering how to use standardisation, public procurement or state aid rules to make all goods and services accessible to people with disabilities while fostering an EU market for assistive devices (“European Accessibility Act”);
- Participation: making sure that persons with disabilities and their families exercise their EU citizenship rights on an equal footing through facilitating the use of sign language and Braille when exercising EU citizens' electoral rights or dealing with EU institutions; promoting an accessible format of websites and copyrighted works, such as books; studying the possibility of mutual recognition of disability cards and related entitlements;
- Funding: ensuring that EU programmes and funds in policy areas relevant to people with disabilities are used to promote sound working conditions for professional and informal care providers and develop personal-assistance schemes;
- More cooperation between Member States (through the High Level Group on Disability) and civil society: providing a forum for the exchange of data and policy coordination, in particular on the portability of rights, such as the right to personal assistance;
- Awareness-raising such as through the European award for accessible cities;
- Data collection and monitoring while also identifying and promoting successful support structures put in place by Member States at national level.
The strategy includes a list of concrete actions and a timetable. The Commission will regularly report on the strategy’s achievements and progress complying with its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities which it has signed.