The Federal Participation Law (Bundesteilhabegesetz, BTHG) is intended to regulate the legal status of people with physical and so-called intellectual disabilities. In June of this year, the bill was passed in the Cabinet and will take effect in January 2017. Yet there are many who are critical of the amendments.
Since 2002, Carl-Wilhelm Rößler has worked for the Living a Self-Determined Life Competence Center and consults people with disabilities about their rights. In this interview with REHACARE.de, he explains why he chose to become an attorney and the changes he wants to make to the proposed Federal Participation Law.
Mr. Rößler, why did you decide to become an attorney?
Carl-Wilhelm Rößler: Previously, I did an apprenticeship to become a banker. Since it wasn't easy to find the right job afterward, I deliberated going to college and chose a course of studies that builds on my vocational training. I considered getting a degree in either Business Management, Economics or law and ultimately chose the latter. Originally, I planned on returning to the banking industry. Yet I noticed during my studies that social law, especially as it relates to the subject of disability, was a field that suited me best. To actively stand up for your rights and the rights of people with disabilities proved to be the absolute right path for me.
Which fields did you specialize in?
Rößler: I specialized in everything pertaining to the subject of disability in a strict and broader sense. Basically, this includes the entire German Social Code (Sozialgesetzbuch), albeit with specific emphases; but in the end, it runs the whole gamut. Other fields, such as Labor Law, for example, obviously also play a role.
Due to your disability, you need an assistant at your office. What tasks does the assistant take on?
Rößler: I have 24-hour assistance. The various assistants cover all of my care needs: pertaining to medical and health care, at leisure time and at the workplace, where the tasks primarily consist of handing me papers, mailing documents, setting up and removing technology and driving and accompanying me to appointments. The financing is obtained from various disability benefits: German integration assistance, nursing care and employee assistance in the form of a personal assistant in the workplace.
What points of the BTHG bill would you personally like to change?
Rößler: Above all, I would like it if the position of policy-makers would change overall. You often get the feeling that the Federal Participation Law is being treated as something that simply sits on the back burner and that our requests are perceived as an inconvenience. I miss the right change in perception for our needs. The Federal Participation Law must no longer be seen as a social security benefit that is granted based on the current cash situation or a whim, but it needs to be handled as a human rights document in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It needs to be clear that the benefits we demand in this case are nothing but essential tools to help claim our human rights. I distinctly miss this shift in awareness. It is very offensive and humiliating for many affected parties to be classified as welfare recipients by the current system, merely on the basis of their disability situation.
What' more, Paragraph 99 of the BTHG bill has clearly raised the bar too high. According to this bill, people with disabilities need to prove in at least five of the nine specified areas of life that they depend on personal or technical assistance to carry out activities to qualify for integration assistance. Thanks to this amendment, the fear is that many persons who are currently still eligible for benefits will no longer be part of this group of people. From my point of view, this must not happen under any circumstances.
Another problem we see is that services for someone like an assistant, for example, are often not rendered to one individual person, but instead need to be shared amongst several disabled people. Among other things, this aspect makes a self-determined life impossible.
What political measures would you like to initiate in Germany?
Rößler: Accessibility needs to be promoted in a more stringent manner and with a greater emphasis. Private companies need to be included in this. It needs to be apparent that accessibility is not an expensive indulgence, but that it also considerably helps people traveling with strollers or walkers, along with people with disabilities. There should also be no debate over whether monument conservation and accessibility clash with each other. Accessibility should definitely take precedence. Monument conservation is certainly a very important aspect, but participation and human rights are far more important in my opinion.
As far as the Federal Participation Law is concerned, it needs to be clear that the previously prevalent welfare thinking has to end. There needs to be a change in direction towards a human rights-based approach. People with disabilities definitely need to be covered and entitled to the same participation opportunities, rights and areas in an unrestricted manner as people without disabilities.