Maltese MEP and inclusivity advocate Alex Agius Saliba has called for the adoption of an EU wide disability card to aid persons with disabilities in fully enjoying their right to freedom of movement, however, he was hit with the sombre reality in which the Parliament itself lacks disability accessibility.
“Persons with disabilities are more likely to be exposed to poverty and social exclusion. They face discrimination on a daily basis which prevents them from fully enjoying their fundamental rights,” Saliba said as he introduced his report during a plenary debate in Parliament.
Saliba is the rapporteur of The Protection of Persons with Disabilities Through Petitions: Lessons Learnt, and he proposed a number of ways to increase accessibility and inclusion of the 87 million people with disabilities living within the EU.
The report received 579 votes in favour, 12 against and 92 abstentions.
He called for accessible and inclusive communication, transport, education, petitions and labour markets.
Some of Saliba’s concrete proposals include public bodies providing information in sign language, braille, more flexible assistance with rail travel and education systems that can accommodate different kinds of learning.
However, amid the parliamentary debate that discussed Saliba’s report, a couple of MEPs with disabilities highlighted the sobering and discriminatory reality that exists within the parliamentary house itself.
“Lessons learnt, really?” MEP Katrin Lagensiepen frustratedly asked in reference to the name of the report.
“No, because if so, then my colleague in a wheelchair would be able to access the podium,” she continued, referring to MEP Stelios Kympouropoulos who was the only person during the debate who was unable to access the speaking podium.
There was also no sign language interpretation.
According to Lagensiepen, despite her requests, nothing was done to ensure that international sign language was available for observers, the press and members of parliament with hearing disabilities.
“Should people who have hearing issues not be informed on EU debates?” she asked.
Saliba addressed this issue during a press conference with the second Commissioner for the Rights of Persons with Disability, Samantha Pace Gasan.
“The heart of the European Parliament is not accessible,” Saliba said.
“Yesterday, I was embarrassed at the fact that we were in the middle of a debate about a report that wants to increase accessibility for people with disabilities across the EU, but in the parliament’s house there wasn’t even a wheelchair ramp for colleagues to get to the podium.”
He further explained that the biggest problem is that the European Parliament is not leading by example, “we’ve done a lot but we need to do a lot more.”
With a lack of accessibility within the EU itself, the credibility of all strategies and resolutions aimed to help people with disabilities is tainted.
It further insinuates that such strides are taken for the sake of image rather than the genuine aim to help people who are forced to struggle in a society that makes everyday tasks challenging in one way or another.
However, hopefully with the parliament being called out, the situation will change and the wellbeing of 87 million people within Europe will be taken as it should – seriously.
And this is precisely what Saliba aims to do with his report that, along with the aforementioned proposals, aims to deinstitutionalise the care of persons with disabilities.
He argued that although some may need institutionalised care, it should not be the first priority or step taken. Doing this leads to isolation rather than integration.
Therefore, Saliba said that EU funds should be aimed at discovering ways of increasing inclusion of persons with disabilities into societies, not sticking them into institutions and using them as tokens “of our nice projects”.
What do you think about this Parliamentary contradiction?