In cooperation with our French members and with the support of MEP Pascal Durand, ENIL helped organise a conference earlier this month to raise awareness about the situation of disabled people and advocate for the right to independent living in France.
Last year, France was visited by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities Ms. Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, who published a very critical statement on the implementation of Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). More specifically, she stated:
“I am extremely concerned about the very high number of persons with disabilities living in institutions across France. Approximately 100,000 children and 200,000 adults with disabilities reside in a broad range of institutionalized settings. The majority of these institutions are financially supported by the State and run by non-profit organizations, including parents’ organizations. Although these institutions differ in size, name and setup, they all segregate and isolate individuals from their communities, deny their choice of and control over living and support arrangements, and significantly restrict their day-to-day decisions.“
The Conference on Independent Living, which took place in Paris on the 6th April, was organised by ENIL, Gré à Gré, COVIAM – Coopérative pour la vie Autonome et Mandataire and CHA – Coordination Handicap et Autonomie, with the support of Independent Living Institute, CNCDH – La Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme and MEP Pascal Durand.
It was an opportunity for French and European user-led organisations to discuss Independent Living and what actions need to be taken to ensure access of all disabled people in France to this right. The conference targeted disabled people, independent living activists, French politicians, journalists, professionals, public servants and the European Commission officials.
The morning session of the conference was open to the public and included representatives of CNCDH – the independent national human rights institution (Magali Lafourcade) and the Government. Etienne Petitmengin, Secretary General of the Inter-ministerial Committee for Disability, representing Sophie Cluzel, State Secretary in charge of people with disabilities and Jean-Guillaume Bretenoux, Vice Director for independent living of disabled and older people, representing DGSC – Directorate General for Social Cohesion, had the opportunity to explain the Government’s position on independent living and provoked a heated discussed with disabled people in the audience.
French activists from Gré a Gré (Mathilde Fuchs), COVIAM, CHA (Yves Mallet) and CLHEE (Elisa Rojas) spoke about their work.
European representatives from ENIL (Natasa Kokic, Nadia Hadad), the Independent Living Institute (Jamie Bolling) and JAG (Cecilia Blanck and Mattias Börjesson) in Sweden, discussed the measures other countries are taking to support independent living. More specifically, the Swedish representatives spoke about the legislation and policies required to enable independent living. ENIL presented the opportunities provided by the European Structural and Investment Funds, the EU Funds for Our Rights Campaign, as well as how the CRPD can be used at the national and EU level. MEP Pascal Durand gave his support to civil society organisations during the conference, and expressed interest in further support to their cause.
The afternoon session was dedicated to civil society organisations, so that they can discuss issues of the biggest concern to disabled people and plan how to best lobby for independent living.
It was made clear at the conference that France has a long way to go to ensure access of disabled people to independent living. Nevertheless, the presence of a number of strong activists at the Paris conference is a sign of the growing movement of disabled people who are determined and motivated to make a difference.