The European Commission organises this annual conference in partnership with the European Disability Forum to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
2-day event brings together more than 400 policy-makers, high-level experts and disability advocates. The wide participation of persons with disabilities allows for hearing their concerns and aspirations and to establish a dialogue with public authorities and other stakeholders.
Thanks to our participation in the CERV Programme, for the second time, EFHOH was able to organise a delegation of hard of hearing activists to participate in the European Day of Persons with Disabilities event in Brussels in 2023.
The event allows representatives of different organisations to network, convene and influence policy making at the European level.
Our delegation members who are also part of the International Federation of Hard of Hearing People (IFHOHYP); Paulina Lewandowska and Maria Skoczynska were able to ask direct questions to panellists, raising awareness of Hard of Hearing People needs for inclusive society.
You can read more about the event in the following link European Day of Persons with Disabilities 2023 – Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion – European Commission (europa.eu)
We invite you to read reflections from Maria Skoczynska and Asa Olsen, HOYR President from Faro Island, both attended the event for the first time.
Maria Skoczynska, organiser of this year’s conference in Poland, combined with EFHOH AGM, has shared her personal reflections from attending the event for the first time. Have a read about Maria’s experience!
“To experience something for the very first time in one’s life is an unforgettable moment, a moment when one’s like a child walking into something yet unknown. We tend to miss this experience once we’ve explored this unknown area and got used to what was new before – because nothing can beat the feeling of entering something important, lifechanging, mind-blowing.
That is an exact description of what I’ve felt, landing in Brussels and entering the building of European Commission in order to participate in my first European Day of Persons with Disabilities that took place on November 30th-December 1st.
For two days we sat in the room that looked more like as if we were about to launch NASA rocket. We weren’t, but we did discuss not any less important things like launching European Disability Card or learning how awarded by European Commission Access Award cities made themselves accessible and attuned to the needs of their citizens (personally it surprised and delighted me that Polish town – Łódź – was awarded as well!). It was also an excellent occassion to exchange our perspectives and strengthen social network that might lead to new, innovative projects supporting the position of persons with disabilities.
Personally I found the words of Secretary General of ONCE Foundation, Virginia Carcedo, very important to keep in mind for the future. She told: “We need less software and more soul.technology helps us but people cannot disappear. Don’t forget soulware. We need people. They need to be at the heart of the work”.
We indeed need to implement soulware into software and take biopsychosocial approach towards hard of hearing people, but also for any other people. I believe that if we could find a way to combine policy-making with taking action, talking about how does it feel to be hard of hearing and launching relevant project, we could make our lives better.
I was also invited to participate in EFHOH Board meeting on December 2nd, which was thrilling occassion for me to see how such an respected organisation like EFHOH works.
Definitely need to think how young people can bring in their skills and passions in order to meet the experience and know-how skill of the in-mind-still-young EFHOH members. It’s also great to know about the ongoing projects that EFHOH gives green lights to – like conference and AGM in 2024 with focus on hearing loss and mental health.
It’s just one of many exciting upcoming things, so we all should definitely stay tuned and see what EFHOH has yet to offer us!”
I have participated in EUROPEAN DAY OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES for the first time, and my experience these days are very interesting, rich in learning, and I have met many new people.
I had the pleasure of meeting the entire board of EFHOH, who work very professionally and who represent all people in the EU who are hard of hearing.
I have made a summary of the highlights on EUROPEAN DAY OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES as I experienced it.
I am very grateful that this trip was possible, and I look forward to a good collaboration with the members of the board of EFHOH.
Here are some summaries from the various presentations. I think all the presentations were good, but I have to prioritize some that we can use in our country.
Tom Ruutel from Estonia. Employer counsellor. Atkvøðurættur er mín møguleiki at siga hvar samfelagið er á veg:
About the barriers in Estonia, starting from accessible voting rooms:
Furniture and so on, and accessible information, I feel that it is also how parties attitude themselves toward people with disabilities. In Estonia we have 10-15% of our 1.3 million people with some kind of disability or disabilities. And here we include also people with occupational diseases and so on. That means it is nearly 130.000 votes what to hunt for. It is more people than the second biggest city in Estonia. Parties are not thinking how communicating with them could be more accessible to different people with different disabilities. They don´t make their programs into simply language. They don´t think about their webpage accessibility or are their headquarters or smaller offices accessible. It is all topics about accessibility, simple to remembers, but hard to keep in mind.
In Estonia we can e-vote from our homes or wherever we are. We just need our computer and internet. Which you can make with your mobile phone. And we need our mobile ID or ID card.
I find my name, show ID, give my signature, get paper with all the names, go to the booth and make decision with the cross in the box. But all these activities require me help of my personal helper, friends or family. So, is it my vote truly mine then? I believe not. For me it is important. We are lucky in Estonia we can vote where we want and we can do it mostly alone. There is a chance to order box to home too. Even if it may happen that people with disabilities can´t go and participate election debates, our Estonian chamber of disabled people makes different debates on line. And makes summaries of platforms what parties have given out, so, anyone who really wants to vote, can do it, but we have our barriers.
Armin Rabitsch: Talked about election watch, for voting in all countries.
The Disability forum wrote a report. It was about voting for people with disabilities and becoming politicians. People vote for the European Parliament in their own country.
Each country uses different ways to vote. Some are more accessible than others. People under guardianship cannot vote in all countries. Not all people can become politicians in all countries. We will keep watching and sharing information to improve voting for everyone.
Susanna van Tonder: one in five people in Europe have a disability. Very few of them are politician. People with disabilities must be supported to participate. They must be supported to vote. And they must be supported to become politicians.
Democracy is not really democracy if people with disabilities are not heard. We have to make sure that people with disabilities in politics are not bullied.
Marie-Helene Boulanger: in a democracy every one person gets one vote, also, very disabled person. There is a network for EU countries. Together we work on accessible elections. Each country can learn from the others. The EU Commission, Council and Parliament also wants to understand what works. They organize events on elections together with countries, they share what they learn.
Voting is important, voting gives you a say in where society is going. This is not only about access to the room where you can vote, it is also about easy-to-read information and party programs. It is about accessible websites, accessible party offices, and accessible debates.
Ulcan da Silva: I am here for the Portuguese mechanism for the rights of people with disabilities, i don´t belive that the politician want us to vote, at all and participate at all. Because tey refuse to change the traditional way of participation to the people with disabilities. And that only can change if we make enough pressure and create enough pressure in order to guarantee that our participation is mandatory.
Domènec Ruiz Devesa, Member of the European Parliament and lead negotiator of the Electoral law reform:
It has been also said by a colleague from the room, that politicians are not interested in facilitating the participation of people with disabilities in the process. I think from the EU Parliament we have been supportive.
In May 2022, more than 1 year ago, we proposed to the negotiation with the Commission on 3 parts on the law that we say is a priority.
Translation list with a system of quota´s, minimum quota´s for women, or a system of alternating genders. Women-man and so on.
And the third priority that we said we wanted to negotiate the fast-track procedure with the Council, was the rights to persons with disabilities. We selected these 3, one of them was the topic we tackle today. However, it is unfortunate, that the Council has not started more than 1 year after, and when we were approaching the elections, has not opened the negotiation with the Parliament on this proposed bill. In any, also the one about people with disabilities, which we are very disappointed. I hope you can liaise with the national governments. When we blame the Counsil, it means everyone of the 27 governments has a shared responsibility why this is not moved forward.
Monika Chaba, Disability policy officer, DG EMPL, European Commission:
I am presenting the cover page of the strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities. It is one of the key actions of the strategi for the rights of persons with disabilities.
Through our actions what we try to do is combat stereotypes. We think this is one of the major obstacles concerning employment of persons with disabilities.
We have invited the member states to setup employment and adult targets. We feel this is very important to setup these targets. We have started discussing it with the member states, how to do it. In the context of different committees that we have with the member states, and we will continue these discussions.
Virginia Carcedo, Secretary General of ONCE Foundation
We are talking about policies at an EU wide level.
Training and employment and universal access for all is what we aim for. In 1989 we had the union group which was founded. This was allowing people with disabilities to work in various sector, allowing them to flourish at various levels of companies and businesses.
This is very important, because when we talk about employment, employment represents a door that opens op to many opportunities.
EU policies which we have the opportunity to work with, are very important.
Patrick Ruppol, Counsellor at the Flemish Employment Agency (VDAB
In 2008, we tried to integrate all concerning the employment of persons with disabilities into employment, the department of employment, and no longer into social affairs.
And then we also said, sheltered employment, we defined it as special, collective workplace, where people earned at least the same salary as in open employment. But we know, as a region, and from also United Nations, that we more and more have to move away from these sheltered employment into open labor market.
Claudia Coveney, School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds
We don´t see as much collaboration as we might expect between research programs like Horizon Europe and civil society, including disability advocacy organizations.
Martine Eliasson, Political adviser at Uloba Independent Living Norway
The UNCRPD article 27 says that disabled people have the right to work on the equal basis with others, but alarming statistics shows, that only 4 out of 10 disabled people in working age are currently employed.
The lack of personal assistance is the main barrier that exclude people with disabilities from labor market.
Paul Alford (independent living): how do the actions of the Strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities impact the lives of the citizens?
Paul: I have been telling the story of my life, and the reason I tell people my story is so others can learn about their rights and how you can change your life if you speak up for yourself.
When I was young, I were made move out of my family home and into an institution, because I had an intellectual disability.
I did not grow up with my parents and my brothers and sisters, and I only got to visit my family sometimes. I had no choice about who to live with. I didn´t know anyone and I had to share my room with 9 other people.
I had been up before 8 am, the doors shut at 9 pm, and I had to eat whatever they gave me.
I had to do what I was told, and they never listened to what I wanted. They even kept the money the government gave me. They made me work in workshops and then in a news agency for 5 euro a week.
People fought for this to stop and for us to get our money from the institutions, and then the government made them give me what I was owed.
I took my time thinking about what I wanted to do when I got the money. After a year I decided to buy my own house.
I had to fight to move out from the institution and learn to use my voice. I went to a meeting in Dublin, a man at the meeting heard me speak up. After that we had more meetings.
It took 3 years with help from the anti-bullying group and others to move me out to the community.
I lived in an institution for 32,5 years. Staff and my family did not want me to move out, but I said it was my own choice.
Having a key to my own front door is the best feeling. I have picked out the design and all the furniture in my house. I can invite people over whenever I want to and I am not afraid, they will not be allowed in.
Lots of people told me I would not be able to live on my own, but they were wrong.
All I needed was the right support.
I chose my own supporter, and they are working with me for the last 8 years.
People need to know how important it is that everyone gets to make choices about their life and where they and with whom they want to live.