On 15 September, the fifth edition of the Freedom Drive was held in Strasbourg. The Freedom Drive is a march for freedom organised every two years by ENIL, which this year saw over two hundred people with disabilities from 20 countries marching from Place de la Republic to the European Parliament.
The aim of the event is to ensure the right for people with disabilities to live independently, by adopting policies based on respect for human rights. This can be made possible through developing accessible spaces, accessible transportation, assistive technology and self-managed personal assistance, as provided by Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It would help us choose how to organise ours lives, just like everyone else.
The role of the personal assistant is essential. Her/his function is to take care of the individual needs of the disabled person, as set out in their employment contract. The person with disabilities should have a right to choose how to get help and a personal budget that fits their needs, which they can use to pay the employee directly. This form of assistance is an alternative to institutional solutions, which are segregating and do not respect personal freedoms. For the real inclusion and independence, an all-inclusive society must have policies that make all public services accessible, such as houses, schools, universities, transport and places of care. “Special solutions” should be avoided.
During the march to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, people with disabilities had specific requests:
Independent living for people with disabilities to be relevant in all European policies ;
The principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities must be applied in laws and policy initiatives;
Include people with disabilities in society abandoning segregating special solutions
De-institutionalization and closing by 2020 of all institutions. Use of structural funds for other forms of assistance by prohibiting use to support institutions;
Personal assistance is a human right;
Freedom of movement and maintenance of the right to personal assistance in other places, outside her/his residence;
Earmark 5% of European funds to carry out programs for independent living in developing countries;
Ratification and full implementation of the UN Convention and the Optional Protocol;
Involvement of organizations of persons with disabilities in all spheres of political decision-making about disability. Nothing about us without us;
On September 15, the Freedom Drivers met with representatives of the European Parliament in a session chaired by Adam Kosa, president of the Disability Intergroup, which was also attended by the Italian MEP Niccolo Rinaldi, vice-president of the group ALDE. The actions and demands have had as the main theme the economic crisis and the consequences that are leading to cuts in public spending in social policy on disability. All the representatives of people with disabilities underlined the serious concerns about the curtailment of hours of assistance for many disabled people, and the effect this will have on their lives. Many will not be able to go out of the house, many will end up in institutions and, paradoxically, the cuts will lead to greater costs in the future. ENIL then delivered to MEPs a draft resolution that the Parliament should adopt and pass on to the Member States.
Among the Freedom Drivers in Strasbourg, a delegation composed of Italian participants: Silvia Cutrera – AVI ONLUS Rome – StefaniaValesi and Simonetta Merlo – Lombard Committee for Independent Living – Germano Tosi – Consequor ENIL Italy – was received by some of the Italian MEPs, invited by MEP Niccolò Rinaldi, in order to present the situation of disabled Italians in the light of the consequences of the recent financial crisis.
MEPs present were Erminia Mazzoni, Partito popolare europeo, Chair petitions committee, Gianni Pittella, Vice-President of the European Parliament, Andrea Zanoni, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Marco Scurria , Group of the European People’s Party, Niccolò Rinaldi, Vice President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats – ALDE Group, Tiziano Motti, the European People’s Party, Patrizia Toia Group Alliance of Democrats and Liberals, David Sassoli Progressive Democrats and Socialist Alliance Group (S & D).
The Italian MEPs have declared their willingness to support the appeal to the European Parliament for a resolution that protects people with disabilities from the cuts, well aware that our country has not yet defined the LEA (essential level of assistance) and that the reduction in transfers of financial resources from national government to local authorities will aggravate the situation. Also, they will be available to monitor the situation and take action in support of our work on the anti-discrimination directive, work with EDF on the use of EU funds, take part in observatories, to support our claims to the Court of Justice.
The next meeting with Niccolò Rinaldi was scheduled for Friday, September 23 at 4pm in Rome – Piazza Risorgimento – as part of the Feast of Values - in a debate on “Disability: Europe is calling Italy”, organised by the Department of Disabilities IDV on the theme of financial measures and the resulting cuts. Dino Barlaam, Agenzia per la Vita Indipendente Rome, will take part in the event.
Written by Silvia Cutrera,
Rome, 20 September 2011