A group of people holding cardboard tombstones with the writing RIP 27.09.2022

In Brussels, 27 September – Hundreds of disabled people and supporters took to the streets of Brussels, asking for the life to live in dignity, not die in institutions. In a mock funeral procession, they marched along key European Union institutions, to protest against hundreds of thousands of deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic, and to remind the public that many die every day in institutions, in poverty or in wars and emergencies. The protest was part of the Freedom Drive, organised by the European Network on Independent Living.

The key four demands of the protesters were for every disabled person to have a right to personal assistance, for Governments to accelerate deinstitutionalisation reforms, to close the employment gap, and for the European Union to stop funding institutions.

Nadia Hadad, Co-chair of ENIL said: “Don’t bury our rights! Society and politicians are closing their eyes to the situation of disabled people. We are dying every day, because we are institutionalised, denied basic support, health care and means to live. The European Union funds places that kill disabled people.”

Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, met the protesters and said that: “The Freedom Drive is a clear sign that the right to independent living must be implemented”. She accepted the Freedom Drive demands, and confirmed the Commission had launched a package of measures on employment. She said the Commission’s focus was on disability and reasonable accommodation, adding: “Our door is open for dialogue and cooperation to make independent living come true.

After the protest, disabled people and allies gathered in the European Parliament at a hearing hosted by Marisa Matias MEPs (the Left). Marisa Marias MEP said: “We need countries to stop misinterpreting the UN Disability Rights Convention and moving people from large into small  institutions. We have all the deinstitutionalisation guidelines we need, including at the level of the United Nations, we just need them to be implemented.”

The Freedom Drive is one of the key campaigns of the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) – held every two years since 2003. This 10th edition of the Freedom Drive is significant because it falls on the 50th Anniversary of the Independent Living movement. To consult the full programme, please visit https://enil.eu/event/freedom-drive/. Media inquiries should be directed to Florian Sanden, ENIL Policy Coordinator, florian.sanden@enil.eu, 00 32 2 893 25 83.

The European Network on Independent Living – ENIL is a Europe-wide network of disabled people, with members throughout Europe. ENIL is a forum for all disabled people, Independent Living organizations and their non-disabled allies on the issues of Independent Living. ENIL represents the disability movement for human rights and social inclusion based on solidarity, peer support, deinstitutionalisation, democracy, self-representation, cross disability and self-determination. More information is available at: www.enil.eu