On behalf of the newly elected Board of the European Network on Independent Living, we would like to say hi to all our members and Newsletter subscribers, and thank our members for trusting us to lead the organisation in the next two years. As newly elected Co-chairs, we wish to tell you a bit about what we see as the biggest challenges for the Independent Living movement and our plans for the coming period.

As we begin our mandate, we see the following issues facing disabled people in Europe today:

  • Although all the EU Member States and the European Union as region ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, their commitment is still not translated into national laws, which would permit real change on the ground;
  • Our terminology is misused – words like inclusion, Independent Living and deinstitutionalisation are everywhere, but NOT the way we understand them;
  • In most of the countries, the rights to have a budget to employ Personal Assistants are regressing and a real deinstitutionalisation plans are missing;
  • The majority of disabled persons still live very segregated lives, within a small network, in isolation, poverty or depending on family or volunteers to survive;
  • Many service providers are not community-based and do not conform with Article 19 of the CRPD and the General Comment 5;
  • Within some national councils of persons with disabilities and in some DPOs, Independent Living is not understood well and they are fine with having institutions in their countries, even working with them or for them;
  • A lot of disabled people are still not aware about their basic human rights to live in the society and to have access to mainstream and community-based services;
  • We are still missing a common EU disability assessment structure, guaranteeing the same benefits in all Member States and a freedom of movement of services and goods;
  • Peer-support and personalised trainings by disabled persons and experts for all disabled people are still missing.

What we need is:

  • No public or private money whatsoever should be used for segregation, not on the EU or national level;
  • A holistic approach to raising awareness of the society (i.e. the general public) about Independent Living for all disabled people, regardless of their support needs or type of impairment;
  • Schoolbooks, toys, games and the media are still not diverse enough, so we must work intersectionally with other partners to change this;
  • Meaningful involvement of  disabled people in all decision-making processes, with impact, from the beginning of the process to planning, realisation, monitoring and evaluation is crucial;
  • Adequate funding for the Independent Living movement should be a legal guarantee, equal as that for the labour unions, for example;
  • Access to the regular kindergartens for children, accessible and affordable housing, accessible transport, inclusive education and training systems, regular workplaces with a decent income, accessible and affordable sports and leisure facilities and all that is needed to participate on an equal basis with others in the society, with the needed and adequate personalised support;
  • Access to justice to fight any type of discrimination and human rights violations as disabled people should be facilitated, supported and financed, in order to bring about real change.

And what can we do as ENIL? ENIL has an essential role for Independent Living in Europe. With members in more than 42 countries, ENIL can make a difference across Europe. Together, we promote Independent Living and the rights of disabled people, not looking at people’s diagnoses, but their Human Rights.

During the next two years as the ENIL Co-chairs, we look forward to bringing deinstitutionalisation forward. We see the movement strengthening at the regional level. We hope to see steps forward in personal assistance rather than the backlash that is vibrating too strongly today. We also want to see Independent Living better included in the international development cooperation. Finally, for all the work to be done, we need a stronger Independent Living network. So, continuing to build this network is one goal we plan to have leading our work.

The recent Freedom Drive gathered over 300 ENIL members and supporters. The energy can still be felt, even on the home front now weeks later. We are already looking forward to Freedom Drive 2021 and are excited to be sharing the Co-Chair position within ENIL – working alongside all of you exploring new horizons, as well as continuing the work on the already well-travelled ENIL paths.

Thank you for reading and we look forward to being in touch with many of you over the next two years!

Jamie Bolling and Nadia Hadad

*On the photo Jamie and Nadia with visitors from Sightsavers India