Deinstitutionalisation (DI) is among the most painful topics in the fight for independent living. Still neglected. Still misused. We still face re-institutionalisation instead of the actual DI process and this affects the lives of thousands of people across Europe while governments claim that measures are taken and problems are resolved. Therefore, we need to keep the topic high on our agendas and perpetually raise it in front of politicians.
On 14th October MEP Daciana Sarbu with the support of the Open Society Foundations – Mental Health Initiative (MHI), hosted at European Parliament in Brussels an afternoon event with the title: “Community not Confinement: the role of the EU in promoting and protecting the right of people with disabilities to live in the community”.
Among the participants were self-advocates – disabled people, experts, the European Commission, the European Ombudsman and EU MEPs. The right of disabled people to live included in society with choices equal to others, as enshrined in Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and about how to ensure that European Structural and Investment Funds contribute to rather than hinder the realization of this right for every European disabled citizen was the focus of the meeting.
Daciana Sarbu informed about an incident that took place before the event, when one person needed a sign language interpreter and when asked, the European Parliament denied providing the service. Fortunately, volunteers were found for the event. Afterwards, panelists spoke. Simona Bigiu and Tudor Marin (both from Pro ACT Support, Romania) explained how different and free their lives are now when they live independently after many years of enclosure in institutions. Raluca Popescu (Ceva de Spus, Romania) mentioned that her mother is her personal assistant, and if something happens to her mother she will end up in institution. Raluca also claimed that the EU needs to support disabled people as equally valuable and important people in the community. The next speaker was Senada Halilcevic (Association for Self-Advocacy, Croatia) who stated that access to services should not be replaced by specialized services. She noted that institutions are not defined by size but by the way people live within and the quality of the health care provided. If freedom is limited, then the housing is an institution. The mini-session ended with Nadia Hadad, a member of the ENIL board, speaking on the three main barriers that exist for disabled people: the first is that personal assistance is not part of legal rights; the second is that there is lack of accessibility in every aspect of life – from transport to education and employment; and the third is that people (both disabled and not) are not informed about the human rights of disabled people.
Representatives from European institutions spoke about the European Union’s legal obligations to use European Structural and Investment Funds in line with the UN CRPD. Attention was raised on the need for the EU to respect the UN CRPD through the EU laws and the correct use of EU funds. It was also mentioned that in May 2015 the European Ombudsman gave EU guidelines for issues concerning disabled people, the response to the guidelines is to be given by the European Commission in November. The EU respects the fundamental rights of disabled people and has prioritized deinstitutionalization but needs to support them even more now with the crisis.
You can read the Open Society Foundation report written by Dr. Israel Butler “Community, Not Confinement” here.
Author: Kamil Goungor