The Disability High Level Group held its second meeting on 23rd October in Brussels, bringing together representatives of the social welfare Ministries from the Member States, EU-level NGOs and the staff of the Disability Unit at DG Employment (at the European Commission). On the agenda was the CRPD implementation, the European Disability Strategy, the UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, assistive technology and finally, ANED’s report on Independent Living.

The meeting started with a brief report from the Conference of States Parties (COSP) in New York, in June, where the EU was represented by the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). Katarina Ivankovic Knezevic, a DG Employment Director, took part in the Civil Society Forum and the Commission helped organise a number of side events.

A representative of Greece, one of the last countries to be reviewed by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, presented the process and the recommendations they received from the Committee. A large number of questions from the Committee related to the process of deinstitutionalisation, followed by those about Independent Living. The absence of a disability action plan was also criticised. The Ministry representative explained that a DI strategy is in the process of being drafted, with technical assistance from the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disabilities – EASPD, and with funding from the EU’s Structural Reform Programme. EASPD representative went on to explain that this is a 2-year process, during which they will do the following: develop a nation-wide DI strategy (by mid 2020); develop training modules for those implementing the process; implement an awareness raising programme; and draft a plan for implementation of the strategy in the regions. An expert group and a steering committee were set up to support the process, including some of the NGOs.

After Greece, next on the agenda was Austria, where an individual complaint to the CRPD Committee (Bacher v. Austria) was presented, involving a young man with multiple disabilities prevented from safely accessing his home because of a conflict with a neighbour. The Committee’s decision in the case is available here.

Stefan Trömel, a Senior Disability Specialist at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) presented the new UN Disability Inclusion Strategy (UNIDS), officially launched during COSP 2019. The aim of this strategy is to help mainstream disability issues across the different UN agencies and country teams. An ‘entity accountability framework’, with 15 indicators, was set up to ensure that action is taken to implement the strategy. Reporting will be done on a yearly basis and although this is essentially a peer mechanism, the ultimate responsibility is to the UN General Assembly and the different governing structures (composed of Government representatives). Development donors (such as DFID, SIDA, GIZ and others) can also support the initiative by making disability inclusion a requirement in the projects they fund. More information about UNDIS is available here.

A representative of the Croatian Government went on to present plans for Croatia’s Presidency of the European Council. Of relevance is the informal meeting of the Social Protection Committee on 23 – 24 March 2020, where the CRPD will be on the agenda. Alongside issues such as equal access of women to the labour market, demographic challenges and youth, the Presidency will put the horizontal anti-discrimination directive back on the agenda.

The Disability Unit stressed the importance of participation in the evaluation of the European Disability Strategy 2010 – 2020, with the survey for citizens open until the 13th November. So far, only 1,000 responses have been received from the 28 Member States. They could not, however, confirm that there would be a new strategy to replace the current one, as this depends on the new Commissioner for Equality, Miriam Dalli. This will be known next year, meaning that the process of drafting the new strategy cannot start before. The evaluation of the European Disability Card, implemented by Ernst & Young, will be finalised in May 2020.

A large proportion of the agenda was devoted to assistive technology, with presentations by the World Health Organisation and good practices from Italy, Germany and Spain.

Last on the agenda was ANED’s Synthesis report on Independent Living, launched earlier this year. Unfortunately, at this point, most participants had left, as the meeting was running late. There was also not much opportunity to discuss the presentations by Portugal, Sweden and Latvia on their efforts to enable disabled people to live independently. The Portuguese presentation focused on the Personal Assistance pilot, funded through the European Social Fund, the Swedish on legislation to support independent living (LSS) and the Latvian on their deinstitutionalisation programme. Among other, it was made clear in the presentation that family-type homes for disabled children and group homes for adults with intellectual disabilities are being built with the support of the European Regional and Development Fund – a practice in breach of Article 19 CRPD. ENIL will bring this once again to the attention of the Disability Unit, as well as the need to devote more time to independent living at the next Disability High Level Group meeting in 2020.