Strong Irish presence at the Fifth European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities in Brussels
May 23 2023, 04:01pm
On 23 May, the hemicycle of the European Parliament in Brussels hosted the 5th European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities - an event during which 600 disability advocates from across the EU came together to discuss the European Union’s role in advancing disability rights.
The Irish delegation was led by DFI CEO John Dolan and included:
- Carolyn Akintola, a self-advocate from Dublin.
- Paul Alford, a self-advocate who has worked for Inclusion Ireland for 18 years. Paul lives in Navan.
- Fintan Bray, Down Syndrome Ireland.
- Adrian Carroll, AsIAm, Ireland's National Autism Charity. He is from Killarney, Co. Kerry,
- Joan Carthy, Irish Wheelchair Association.
- James Cawley, self-advocate from Longford.
- Macrina Clancy, Cathaoirleach of the Board of Polio Survivors Ireland.
- Catherine Cooper, disability activist and advocate attached to the CRC in Dublin.
- Lorraine Duffy, a self-advocate from Galway who lives with an acquired brain injury.
- Padraig Hannafin, Public Affairs Research Administrator for the Rehab Group in Ireland.
- Jeanne McDonagh, CEO of the Open Doors Initiative.
- Aoife Price, a disabled researcher, academic, and activist from Waterford.
The event was marked by the adoption of the European Disability Forum’s Manifesto on the 2024 European Elections - the roadmap of the European Disability Forum’s campaign for next year.
It shares the movement’s demand to be fully involved in the political process – from having the right to vote (still denied to many) and being able to stand as a candidate, to having accessibility measures in place to ensure a free, private and informed vote. Voters must be able to understand all aspects of the electoral process and parties’ manifestos and have accessible measures to cast a secret vote.
The manifesto also outlines key demands for the next legislative term – actions that are essential to fully ensure the rights of persons with disabilities, such as:
- Ensure that all persons with disabilities have the right to vote and the right to stand as candidates in European elections.
- Ensure strong services focusing on disability rights in EU Institutions: a new Directorate-General for Equality and Inclusion in the European Commission under the leadership of the Commissioner for Equality; a Disability Committee in the European Parliament; an Equality Configuration in the Council.
- Create a new European agency for accessibility.
- Adopt an EU-wide Disability Card, which ensures the mutual recognition of disability status across Member States.
- Introduce stronger legislation to protect the rights of persons with disabilities as passengers, notably the prohibition of denied boarding to flights and fair compensation when mobility equipment is lost or damaged during travel.
- Establish a Disability Employment and Skills Guarantee to boost the participation of persons with disabilities in the open labour market.
- Further protection for women and girls with disabilities, including the prohibition of forced sterilisation.
- Support Ukrainians with disabilities inside and outside Ukraine, and make sure the EU’s contribution to the reconstruction of Ukraine builds a more inclusive country for persons with disabilities.
- Introduce legislation to guarantee the availability and affordability of assistive technologies for persons with disabilities.
- Ensure the next EU Budget fully supports independent living for persons with disabilities and ensures disability inclusion in the Green and Digital transition.
The comprehensive list of proposals outlined by the Manifesto focuses on realising a Union of Equality; becoming a more social Europe; embracing accessibility; protecting persons with disabilities.
European Disability Forum's President Yannis Vardakastanis added, “Persons with disabilities want to be full citizens of the European Union – and the participation in this landmark event showed that. The will of the movement is clear: EU institutions must ensure we can participate in the democratic process and in the policies shaping our Union, and they need to build an inclusive Europe together with us.
European Disability Forum's Vice President Gunta Anca stated, “One of the mottos of the European Union is “United in Diversity”. Persons with disabilities are united and are part of this diversity – we should be included and have the freedom to live and move that the European Union allows to its citizens.”
Ireland at the EPPD
There was a strong presence from Ireland at the EPPD with Senator Martin Conway delivering an adress along with a number of Irish MEPs. DFI also had two short speaking slots at the event. Tamara Byrne from Ireland also delivered an empowering address as a self-advocate for persons with intellectual disabilities representing Inclusion Europe and the EDF Youth Committee.
In his address John Dolan said, "The European Disability Forum Manifesto needs to be fully implemented. That is what we as citizens require. Commitments need implementaion, nothing less. As disabled people we yearn to be in the thick of things and not on the side lines. We want to be part of the good times, the hard times, the tough times, exhileration,spontaneity, adrenalin pumping in us because we want to be part and partners with everyone else in society.
"The next Parliament and Commission must implement this manifesto so that we can play our part in responding to the great challenges and opportunities that are ahead of all of us. Only full participation honours and vindicates our humanity. We need action to do the talking from now on."
In her address self-advocate Carolyn Akintola outlined the catalogue of issues that she had in traveling to the event. She said, "When I left Dublin yesterday to attend this Disability Parliament to contribute to the campaign for my rights as a disabled person who is an equal citizen of Europe, I found myself in a situation where it seemed I couldn’t even get to the EU Parliament without being traumatised by a world that simply doesn’t seem to care about my needs.
"Despite booking assistance and notifying the airline that I had a power wheelchair, my chair is still in Dublin and I am sitting here in a borrowed wheelchair.
"One of the themes being discussed today is resilience. Another that’s included in the Manifesto for the upcoming European elections is embracing accessibility and allowing free movement in Europe.
"Having made the decision to travel without my power chair to this important event to be part of the networking and sharing of the lived experience I was promised that there would be no issue with my access into Brussels. We landed at 7pm and two hours later we got to the baggage reclaim. I spent all this time sitting in an airport transit chair totally unsuited to my needs.
"And my personal assistant had to face bureaucracy and an utter lack of understanding and basic human compassion in trying to access an area where I could be collected. It led me to ask the question: Is there no compassion here? In this city which proclaims to be spearheading the rights of disabled people as enshrined in the UN CRPD, I ask again, where was the compassion? Where was the understanding? And most importantly where was my dignity as a citizen of the European Union or don’t we matter too?"
EU Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly spoke at the event about Carolyn's experience and how so many disabled people are still denied their rights. She went on to further address these issues in a comprehensive interview on RTÉ Drivetime.
Pat Clarke, EDF's Vice President had the difficult task of summing up the day's proceedings at the EPPD. He paid tribute to all of the advocates who spoke about their concerns and their needs in order to be able to live a life of equality and inclusion.
You can watch the full event here as it was live streamed on 23 May:
You can also find the agenda and the full details on all of the speakers at this link:
5th European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities - European Disability Forum (edf-feph.org)
Official images will be available from the EDF shortly.
Meeting the Irish MEPs
On Wednesday 24 May the Irish delegation was hosted in Ireland's Permanent Representation to the EU where they were able to engage with a number of Irish MEPs on issues of concern such as free movement, PA services, education, employment as well as the EDF Manifesto for the EU Elections next year. The Irish delegates asked the MEPs to be an ally to them and to take a human rights approach to realise the implementation of the United National Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) in your role as a political representative in Europe.
DFI is grateful to the MEPs for their sponsorship of the delegates attendance at the event and for those who took time out of busy schedules to meet with our delegation including Ciaran Cuffe, Frances Fitzgerald, Deirdre Clune, Luke Ming Flanagan, Colm Markey, Grace O'Sullivan, Sean kelly, and Maria Walsh.
You can see some of the images from those meetings here.
The delegates were supported by a number of DFI staff members and by their PAs and colleagues. With thanks to Fiachra, Lena, Pauline, Anna, Craig and all of the DFI team in Brussels and in Ireland.
Click here for our photographic snapshot of the event.