Impact of austerity measures 'absent' from policy-makers' thinking
By Honor Mahony
EU politicians will next month be directly confronted with the effects of their budget-slashing policies when disabled people from all over Europe gather in Brussels to voice their anger at having their allowances and services cut.
Around 500 people are expected to make use of the "European Parliament of Disabled People" - an event last held almost ten years ago - on 5 December to tell EU leaders the obligation to protect disability rights remains despite the economic crisis.
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Jannis Vardakastanis, European Disability Forum president, said the disability movement is not simply "doing nothing and waiting for the worst to come."
"We have been protesting. We have been fighting in many countries," he said at the recent launch of a study compiling evidence of the effects of austerity measures in the EU.
The survey showed a rise in poverty levels among disabled people, cuts in basic services and a return to negative stereotyping across several countries.
Vardakastanis cited his native Greece - bailed out twice by international lenders and obliged to implement swathes of austerity measures in return - to underline the importance of taking a stand: "I can tell you that because of the fight and the struggle of the Greek disability movement, the disabilities allowances of 200,000 disabled people have been fully protected from any cuts."
What campaigners are looking for is progress on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - a charter laying out basic rights for disabled people such as community living and inclusive education.
The EU signed up to the convention in 2010. The vast majority of member states - except Ireland, Finland, the Netherlands and Malta - have done so too.
But work on implementing its provisions has all but stopped as countries seek to cut down budget deficits.
An issue that Vardakastanis mentioned several times is fear of a return to viewing institutions as a solution to dealing with disabled people while cutting down on costs - a trend mentioned in the study.
"It is difficult to make our dreams our reality but we will never accept to be put back in institutions," he said, adding: "We are going to fight make our dreams a reality even in a period of crisis."
A comment by an EU official underlined how profoundly the social thinking among European leaders needs to be transformed however.
Referring to the impact of austerity measures of people with disabilities, Jose Leandro, an adviser on socio-economic issues to EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy said: "This issue is completely absent from political discourse on the crisis."
"It is also absent in many cases from the minds of policy-makers who design the measures that are being implemented to fight the crisis," he added.