The Action Plan seeks to translate the aims of the Council of Europe with regard to human rights, non-discrimination, equal opportunities, full citizenship and the participation of people with disabilities into a European framework on disability for the next decade.
This Action Plan aims to provide a comprehensive framework that is both flexible and adaptable in order to meet country-specific conditions. It is intended to serve as a roadmap for policy makers, to enable them to design, adjust, refocus and implement appropriate plans, programmes and innovative strategies.
The Council of Europe will seek to implement the Action Plan by providing positive assistance to all member states in the form of recommendations, advice and expert information.
2.2. Paradigm shift from patient to citizen
The last decade has seen major political, economic, social and technological changes in Europe. The opportunities and challenges of globalisation, the development of information and communication technology, changing patterns of employment and unemployment, health and demography, migration, and the transition to market economies are transforming the region. Many of these changes have been positive and have consequently raised people’s hopes and expectations.
We have moved from seeing the disabled person as a patient in need of care who does not contribute to society to seeing him/her as a person who needs the present barriers removed in order to take a rightful place as a fully participative member of society. Such barriers include attitudes and social, legal and environmental barriers. We therefore need to further facilitate the paradigm shift from the old medical model of disability to the social and human rights based model.
We have shifted our focus to the individual as central to a coherent, integrated approach which respects the human rights, fundamental freedoms and dignity of all disabled individuals. Consequently there has been a shift in many European countries to promote active policies which empower the individual disabled person to control his/her life. At the same time the role of non-governmental organisations in general, and in particular of those of people with disabilities, in society has changed. They have become partners for governments and disabled people alike, as advocates, service providers or as a source of expert knowledge and competence.
The Action Plan is designed to be flexible to take account of future technological change and other developments.
Recent developments in the field of biotechnology and its potential use have created concerns amongst disabled people, to the point that even the right to life is sometimes in question. This plan deals with the full social inclusion and participation of disabled people and therefore it has not been considered appropriate to include such medically related issues as prenatal diagnosis and discrimination in abortion laws on the basis of disability.
However, there is no doubt about the importance of these issues and it is considered vital to ensure that disabled people, through their representative organisations, participate in the relevant national and international ethics and bio-ethics committees dealing with these matters.
2.3. The Malaga Ministerial Declaration
The Second European Conference of Ministers responsible for integration policies for people with disabilities, held in Malaga (Spain) on 7 and 8 May 2003, wished to build on the First European Conference of Ministers, which took place in 1991 and resulted in the Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation No. R (92) 6 on a coherent policy for people with disabilities. This recommendation, adopted on 9 April 1992, influenced the disability policies of Council of Europe member states for more than ten years and prompted inclusive policies which have positively benefited disabled people both nationally and internationally. However, the ministers recognised that further work is needed to progress on disability issues in a changed environment.
In the Malaga Ministerial Declaration, entitled “Progressing towards full participation as citizens”, adopted at the conference, the ministers considered that their main aim in the next decade is to further improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and their families. A new strategy is needed to reflect the social model of disability and both the higher expectations of disabled people and of society.
The ministers considered that this strategy should be expressed in an Action Plan designed to eliminate all forms of discrimination against people with disabilities, regardless of their age. The Action Plan should have a special focus on disabled women, people with disabilities in need of a high level of support and ageing people with disabilities, and ensure that they will be able to enjoy their human rights, fundamental freedoms, and full citizenship.
2.4. Human rights framework
The Council of Europe and its member states will continue to work within anti-discriminatory and human rights frameworks towards safeguarding people with disabilities against any form of discrimination or abuse, and towards mainstreaming equality of opportunity for people with disabilities throughout all policy areas.
In drawing up the Action Plan, the member states would like to acknowledge the influence of existing legal treaties, instruments, standards and policies which support the equal treatment and human rights of people with disabilities. At European level, the Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation No. R (92) 6 laid solid foundations. European Union legislation and programmes have further paved the way, and the European Commission Action Plan will shape the manner in which disability policies will henceforth be designed and implemented by the European institutions. The Council of Europe’s New Strategy for Social Cohesion (2004) includes a particular commitment to making a reality the rights of those individuals and groups in society who are at particular risk of becoming vulnerable and socially excluded.
In addition to existing European instruments, the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, the main United Nations human rights treaties, and developments in relation to the draft United Nations international convention on the rights of persons with disabilities are noted.
2.5. Strategic goals
The key objective of this Action Plan is to bring about the full participation of people with disabilities in society, ultimately mainstreaming disability issues throughout all the policy areas.
The plan provides a comprehensive framework of specific recommendations flexible enough to be adaptable in order to meet country-specific conditions. It thus takes due account of the geographic, economic, cultural, and social diversity of member states and recognises that transition processes are under way in various member states. It is intended to serve as a practical tool, a roadmap, for policy makers to enable them to develop and implement appropriate strategies focused on key priorities.
It will aid those countries who need to establish a first national Action Plan for the integration of their disabled citizens and also help countries who already have established such policies and plans to progress them further.
It will help member states to promote active policies which prohibit discrimination and promote the right to equal opportunities with effective means of redress if those rights are infringed.
It encourages member states to respond to the needs of people with disabilities by providing quality and innovative services and consolidating measures already in place.
It provides a useful source of inspiration for private enterprise, non-governmental organisations, and other international organisations.
Lastly and most importantly, the Action Plan promotes the essential concept that disabled people and their representatives need to be consulted as stakeholders in decision-making processes which affect their lives, from national policy design to more individual subjects.
The implementation of the Action Plan will be regularly evaluated to identify progress and share good practice. This will require effective and feasible mechanisms to monitor progress and evaluate the outcome at national level.
2.6. Structure and content
The Action Plan has a broad scope and encompasses all key areas of the life of people with disabilities; for example housing, education, employment, mobility and awareness raising. These key areas are duly reflected in the action lines that are the core of the Action Plan.
The Plan also includes cross-cutting aspects, such as those of women and girls with disabilities, children and young people with disabilities, ageing of people with disabilities, people with disabilities in need of a high level of support, and people with disabilities from minorities and migrants.
In the Action Plan, due account is taken of relevant existing European and international instruments, treaties, plans and developments in relation to the draft United Nations international convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.
The fundamental principles governing this Action Plan include non-discrimination, equal opportunities, independence and full participation of disabled people.
The key elements of the Action Plan are overarching and fundamental principles, key action lines, cross-cutting aspects, implementation and follow-up mechanisms and a phased implementation process. The Action Plan is structured accordingly.
The Action Plan does not contain a definition of disability. The committee agreed that this is a matter for individual member states and their national policy.
Similarly, the Action Plan does not contain a specific action line on the subject of prevention. This is a subject important to disabled people, non-disabled people and governments since the effects of disability impact on the individual, their families and society in general. In line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF),1 this Action Plan as a whole deals with the prevention of the development of activity limitations and participation restrictions. The Action Plan thus acknowledges the ICF and will encourage member states to use this as a standardisation framework.
The committee felt that ongoing developments in medical treatment, advancements in the early detection of disability and the advancement of public health policies should be addressed by relevant committees within the Council of Europe.
The Action Plan acknowledges the principle that society has a duty to all its citizens to ensure that the effects of disability are minimised through actively supporting healthy lifestyles, safer environments and supportive communities. These issues are addressed in the various action lines, but particularly in the ones dealing with health care and rehabilitation.
2.7. Fundamental principles
The fundamental principles which govern this Action Plan are:
– equality of opportunities;
– full participation in society of all persons with disabilities;
– respect for difference and acceptance of disability as part of human diversity;
– dignity and individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices;
– equality between women and men;
– participation of disabled people in all decisions affecting their lives, both at individual level and at society level through their representative organisations.
The drafting process of the Action Plan started at the 26th session of the Committee on the Rehabilitation and Integration of People with disabilities (Partial Agreement) (CD-P-RR) in October 2003. To facilitate this process a working group, mandated by the CD-P-RR and assisted by an ad hoc drafting group, was established to elaborate the Action Plan.
The Action Plan advocates the role of non-governmental organisations of people with disabilities as a source of expert knowledge and sees them as competent partners in policy development. Consequently, the European Disability Forum, representing disabled persons’ organisations, has played an important and active role in the elaboration of the Council of Europe Disability Action Plan.
To ensure an increased awareness and implementation of the Action Plan all relevant Council of Europe bodies and committees have been consulted.
3. Key action lines
The Action Plan outlines specific actions in a broad range of policy areas which, when combined, can provide a comprehensive framework to develop and progress national policies and strategies for people with disabilities and also mainstream policies with a view to promoting the full participation of people with disabilities in society.
The action lines build on the Malaga Ministerial Declaration on People with disabilities “Progressing towards full participation as citizens” (adopted at the Second European Conference of Ministers responsible for disability integration policies, Malaga, Spain, May 2003), on Council of Europe Recommendation No. R (92) 6 on a coherent policy for people with disabilities and on developments in Europe generally.
Each action line sets out key objectives and specific actions to be implemented by member states under the following headings:
– No. 1: Participation in political and public life;
– No. 2: Participation in cultural life;
– No. 3: Information and communication;
– No. 4: Education;
– No. 5: Employment, vocational guidance and training;
– No. 6: The built environment;
– No. 7: Transport;
– No. 8: Community living;
– No. 9: Health care;
– No. 10: Rehabilitation;
– No. 11: Social protection;
– No. 12: Legal protection;
– No. 13: Protection against violence and abuse;
– No. 14: Research and development; and
– No. 15: Awareness raising.
3.1. Action line No.1: Participation in political and public life
The participation of all citizens in political and public life and the democratic process is essential for the development of democratic societies. Society needs to reflect the diversity of its citizens and benefit from their varied experience and knowledge. It is therefore important that people with disabilities can exercise their rights to vote and to participate in such activities.
Efforts must be made to create the environment where people with disabilities are encouraged and are able to participate in politics at local, regional, national and international levels. This can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone can enjoy their political rights.
It is noted that women and young people with disabilities generally account for a small proportion of those occupying representative functions. It is important that they are also encouraged to participate and included in representative groups.
i. To actively promote an environment where people with disabilities can participate on an equal footing in political parties and civil society;
ii. to increase the participation of people with disabilities in political and public life at all levels, local, regional, national and international, in order to fully represent the diverse nature of society;
iii. to work to encourage the participation of women and young people with disabilities, as well as those in need of a high level of support, in the political arena at all levels;
iv. to ensure that people with disabilities and their representative organisations are consulted and have a role to play in determining policies for people with disabilities.
3.1.3. Specific actions by member states
i. To ensure that voting procedures and facilities are appropriate and accessible to people with disabilities so that they are able to exercise their democratic rights, and allow, where necessary, the provision of assistance in voting;
ii. to protect the right of people with disabilities to vote by secret ballot and, where necessary, upon their request, allow assistance in voting by a person of their choice;
iii. to ensure that no person with a disability is excluded from the right to vote or to stand for election on the basis of her/his disability;
iv. to ensure that election information is available and accessible in all necessary alternative formats, and easy to understand;
v. to encourage political parties and other civil society organisations to provide their information and organise their public meetings in an accessible way;
vi. to encourage people with disabilities, in particular women and young people, to form and join representative disability organisations at local, regional and national level for the purpose of contributing to and influencing policy at all levels;
vii. to encourage consultation with people with disabilities and their organisations on an equal basis to others, in the democratic decision-making process;
viii. to implement the relevant provisions included in Recommendations Rec(2001)19 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the participation of citizens in local public life, Rec(2003)3 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision making, Rec(2004)11 on legal, operational and technical standards of e-voting, and Rec(2004)15 on electronic governance.
3.2. Action line No. 2: Participation in cultural life
The right of people with disabilities as individuals to be fully integrated into society is dependent on them being able to participate in the cultural life of that society. If people with disabilities are to remain or become independent they must have as complete a life as possible interacting with other members of society, be they disabled or non-disabled people. They have the right to participate in culture, leisure, sport and tourism.
The Council of Europe and its member states are committed to taking the rights of people with disabilities into account when formulating and implementing their cultural policy. Concerted action is required to transform the opportunities and quality of life for people with disabilities through their access and involvement in the arts and social life.
There is no easy route to attaining this goal. Various means can be pursued but it may ultimately require enactment of specific legislation. This should reflect the concept of “reasonable adjustment” especially in the context of access to older buildings or historic monuments and smaller private business premises. It will also require the diversity of society to be fully reflected in broadcasting media.
i. To take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities can access local, regional and national cultural life;
ii. to ensure that people with disabilities can participate in cultural, recreational, leisure, sporting, spiritual and social activities, both as observers and as actors;
iii. to work to ensure that people with disabilities can develop and utilise their creative, athletic, artistic, spiritual and intellectual potential for their own benefit and that of their communities.
3.2.3. Specific actions by member states
i. To encourage institutions and relevant bodies at local, regional, national and international level to make literature and other cultural information material accessible to people with disabilities, making full use of electronic technology where appropriate, and in simple and understandable wording;
ii. to urge public institutions and to encourage private institutions, relevant bodies and providers to actively engage all people with disabilities in their cultural, leisure, sporting, spiritual and intellectual activities;
iii. to encourage their broadcasting and related creative industries to ensure that people with disabilities can access broadcasting, films, theatre plays and other arts-related activities in accessible formats which may include captioning, subscript, audio description and sign language;
iv. to urge national broadcasting and related creative industries to publish Action Plans for increasing the employment of people with disabilities both “in front of the camera/microphone and behind it”;
v. to encourage institutions and relevant bodies dealing with culture, sports, leisure and tourism to undertake regular disability awareness training for their staff as a mainstream activity;
vi. to enable people with disabilities to enjoy access to culture, sports, tourism and leisure activities by, for example, encouraging providers to make their premises and services accessible through whatever means that are necessary;
vii. to take appropriate steps:
– to ensure that laws protecting intellectual property rights do not constitute an unreasonable or discriminatory barrier to access by people with disabilities to cultural materials, while respecting the provisions of international law;
– to ensure that persons with disabilities can acquire artist’s status and benefit from their artistic property;
viii. to encourage people with disabilities to participate in activities regardless of whether they are intended for people with or without disabilities;
ix. to ensure that sport and cultural activities are an integral part of the education programmes for children with disabilities, recognising the role of such activities in enhancing social skills.
3.3. Action line No. 3: Information and communication
Access to information and communication is a key aspect for participation in society. If people with disabilities are to exercise their rights actively, participate and make choices about their lives, it is essential that they can access information through adequate communication systems. For many people with disabilities, however, information and communication continue to be largely inaccessible.
Ongoing developments in information and communications are changing the way in which citizens interact with each other, conduct business, access services and information and communicate generally. Technological advancements include the Internet, eCommunication facilities, videophones, etc. It is important that all citizens benefit from such technological advancements and that no group be excluded, in particular people with disabilities.
Public bodies have a particular duty to ensure that their information is accessible in a range of formats responding to the diverse needs of people with disabilities. Such bodies should also be models of best practice for the private sector, and all those providing services to people with disabilities, who should be encouraged to adopt such practices also.
Communication systems must also be accessible to people with disabilities. There are already good examples of the types of systems that can be used, such as telephone relay systems or text and video communication systems.
People with disabilities should be consulted regarding the development of standards and the design of new communication and information systems.
If we are to have a truly inclusive society, people with disabilities must be able to use information and communication systems along with everyone else.
i. To take appropriate measures to ensure that people with disabilities can seek, receive and impart information on an equal footing with other members of society;
ii. to make the best use of new technologies with the aim of increasing independence and interactions of people with disabilities in all areas of life.
3.3.3. Specific actions by member states
i. To seek to provide official information to people with disabilities in accessible formats and technologies, acknowledging the needs arising from different impairments (for example Braille, audio-tape or easy-to-read versions);
ii. to undertake training and other actions to encourage the use of information and communication technologies by persons with disabilities;
iii. to ensure that all e-learning materials are accessible to persons with disabilities through compliance with existing accessibility standards;
iv. to recognise that people with disabilities may use sign languages, Braille, and alternative means and modes of communication (including advocacy services), and seek to accommodate these as far as possible in official interaction. On request, in meetings and conferences, a person should be available to summarise the contents in simple wording;
v. to make communication systems more accessible to people with disabilities through new technologies, for example text communication;
vi. to ensure public authorities and other public bodies make their information and communications accessible to people with disabilities, including their websites which shall comply with current international accessibility guidelines;
vii. to encourage all private bodies, particularly those that receive public funding, to make their information and communications accessible to people with disabilities;
viii. to encourage the development, production and distribution of affordable assistive technologies in information and communication;
ix. to promote compliance with universal design principles with respect to all new information and communication technology developments;
x. to implement Resolution ResAP(2001)3 “Towards full citizenship of persons with disabilities through inclusive new technologies”.