2nd Dec 2023


Burdens hindering 87m disabled citizens moving within EU

  • People with disabilities are not automatically recognised as such when they move to another EU country (Photo: Pexels)
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While some 17 million European citizens currently live or work in another member state, that reality that is almost utopian for another 87 million fellow citizens.

That's because people with disabilities are not automatically recognised as such when they move to another EU country — which delays access to essential services and entitlements.

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  • On Wednesday (6 September), the EU Commission is proposing an EU-wide disability card to ensure the recognition of persons with disabilities across all member states (Photo: European Commission)

"Having to have your disability 're-assessed' when moving to another EU country puts an undue burden on persons with disabilities — bureaucracy, time lost, and support that is not received," Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the European Disability Forum (EDF) told EUobserver.

In the Netherlands or Denmark, having a disability means an average of around €20,000 of extra expenditure per year. In Sweden, the figure is around €23,000.

Without support from day one, mobility becomes almost a luxury that few can afford without family support or substantial financial resources.

Besides the fragmentation of European disability-assessment systems, which discourages many from moving countries, they also need to be eligible for support.

"EU citizens with disabilities essentially rely on the goodwill of individual countries when they move abroad because existing EU legislation on social security coordination is insufficient," Haydn Hammersley, social policy coordinator of the EDF told EUobserver.

For example, some countries require a minimum period of residence in order to access certain services or social security benefits.

According to the regulation on the coordination of social security systems, social benefits that depend on previous contributions should take into account the contributions made in the previous member state.

In December 2016, the EU Commission proposed a revision of the legislation on social security coordination, but it is still frozen in discussions.

Moreover, until the new country of residence recognises the disability, the employing company cannot claim reimbursement for the cost of reasonable accommodation — such as workplace adaptations or assistive technologies, to name a few examples.

This was the case for Alejandro, who is visually impaired and moved from Spain to Belgium almost 10 years ago to work for a disability rights organisation.

He then had to go through several months of proceedings within the French-speaking community of Belgium, and then with the Belgian federal government, in order to get his disability recognised and to be reimbursed for a screen that would allow him to do his work without having to strain his eyesight.

In his case, a screen was all that was needed, but the more support a person needs, the less likely they are to be able to study or work abroad without initial access to the services and benefits they need in their new country of residence.

For Kamil from Greece, the possibility of working in person with her Belgian company was not even an option because of the difficulties she faced. She uses a wheelchair and needs 24-hour personal assistance, as well as reasonable accommodation and the maintenance of her social benefits.

"When moving to another country you kind of lose everything, and you need to start from the beginning, which usually is very consuming and complicated," she said.

Bearing in mind that the first few months may be a trial period, not having this support increases the chances of losing the job or underperforming.

"For freedom of movement to be actually well implemented, countries must ... automatically recognise existing disability status," Hammersley stressed.

If this is not the case, at least the period in between should be covered, the EDF demands.

On Wednesday (6 September), the commission is proposing an EU disability card to ensure the recognition of persons with disabilities across the EU, and give them access to a range of services or benefits in culture, leisure, or even transport.

Service providers in all member states will be able to offer these benefits on a voluntary basis, but it is not yet certain what will be included in the proposal, which is expected to take the form of a directive or a regulation.

In the best-case scenario (which is not expected by activists), since it takes a lot of time and bureaucracy for people with disabilities to work or study abroad before they can access their entitlements, the EU disability card would bridge this transitional period until the disability is reassessed.

"We need an EU where persons with disabilities are no longer fearful to seek opportunities," Hammersley said.


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