The Disability Intergroup of the European Parliament is an informal grouping of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from all nationalities and most political groups who are interested in promoting the disability policy in their work at the European Parliament as well as in the national contexts. Among the vice-presidents there is MEP Brando Benifei, the youngest MEP from the Socialists and Democrats group. He shared with Vita International the intergroup’s priorities and what lead him to join the group.
What led you to join the intergroup?
I care very much and I pay lots of attention to the issues regarding the aspirations of people with disabilities, because I was involved in the matter when I was member of the provincial council of La Spezia. I worked with the Council on disabled people in the local government and with various associations. In Italy there are 8 million disabled people. We had an immense job to do and many challenges to deal with, such as architectural barriers, and access to education, public services. I dealt with these issues on a practical level. Those hands-on experiences led me to join the Disability Intergroup of the European Parliament.
Are European politics putting the right energy and dedication into the aspiration of the disabled people?
It is worth mentioning that the European Union has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is a binding instrument. We are monitoring its implementation throughout the EU and we are promoting additional legislation to comply with it, where needed.
For example, take the Accessibility Act. It was presented at the beginning of December 2015, and is an important step forward. It marks a renewed interest by the European Commission on this issue. It is a proposal for a Directive that the European Parliament is informally already examining. It has some very positive aspects. The major goal is to overcome the lack of standardization among member states when it comes to rights to access to goods and services: today, accessibility of goods varies from country to country. The proposal, however, does not cover some critical issues, such as the transport and tourism sectors. We will call
Could you provide some examples that explain the future benefits of the Accessibility Act?
More rights to access education and employment opportunities, clarity on common standards, and the elimination of barriers between member states to access disabled–friendly products and services. I would also emphasize that people with disabilities must have access to all government services.
What are the challenges the non-profit sector is facing?
First of all, for me it has been very meaningful to work with the European Disability Forum, made up of associations and NGOs representing 80 million people with disabilities across Europe. Many stakeholders shared with us their expectations, problems and proposals. From my understanding, policy-makers are becoming aware that we need to include the perspective of disabled people in every piece of legislation, as they are holders of formally ratified rights. Representatives of disabled people are also pressing for more resources, and to make sure that the funds already committed will be guaranteed. Austerity has reduced our capacity of spending for social causes. I have experienced this problem also when I was working in the local government. We have to fight against cuts. Another key issue is to improve what is already working well, i.e. the use of structural funds and other public funds to improve access to the job market.
Do you recall some best practices that are making the life of disabled people simpler?
Yes, several innovative (often technologically sophisticated) products and services are placed on the market every day, even by the private sector. To name a few, VEASYT Live,
Photo:Getty/i: EMMANUEL DUNAND
What is the Accessibility Act?
It is a set of proposals which will set common accessibility requirements for certain key products and services that will help people with disabilities at EU level to participate fully in society. The products and services covered have been carefully selected in consultation with citizens and civil society organisations as well as businesses. They include ATMs and banking services, PCs, telephones and TV equipment, telephony and audiovisual services,, e-books and e-commerce. The proposal for a Directive aims to improve the functioning of the internal market, making it easier for companies to provide accessible products and services across borders. Common accessibility requirements will also apply in the frame of EU procurement rules and for the use of EU funds. The initiative will stimulate innovation and increase the offer of accessible products and services for the around 80 million persons with disabilities in the EU. People with disabilities will benefit from a greater supply of accessible products and services at more competitive prices. The improved offer can also benefit older citizens with similar needs for accessibility, as well as others in the wider public facing challenges linked to an accident, a temporary illness or a difficult environment such as low light or high noise. This will help increase active participation in society, including in education and in employment, as well as more autonomy and mobility opportunities.
Around 80 million people in the EU are affected by a disability to some degree. Due to the ageing of the population, the figure is expected to increase to 120 million by 2020. Accessibility is a precondition to their equal participation and active role in society. And it can contribute to ensure smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
After the presentation of the Accessibility Act, the Commission has planned an initial consultation period of 8 weeks in which stakeholders can give their feedback. It will be followed by the regular legislative procedure involving the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.