It will take effect on January 1, 2017: the new Federal Participation Law (Bundesteilhabegesetz, BTHG). It is intended to fundamentally improve participation in society and encourage the self-determined life of people with disabilities. Yet never before has a bill caused so much backlash. Activists are demonstrating for their rights and are protesting the law. REHACARE.com spoke with activist Ottmar Miles-Paul and the Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) Gabriele Lösekrug-Möller about the criticism and the consequences.
Article 1 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (Grundgesetzes, GG) states that all persons shall be equal before the law. Article 3 states no one many be disadvantaged – among other things- because of a disability. Yet currently people with disabilities in Germany still feel disadvantaged, despite the constant changes to these types of laws. On July 19, 2016, a new amendment to the German Disability Equalization Act (BGG) was passed, which implements the principles proclaimed in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN-CRPD) and inclusion to ensure participation in society on an equal basis and help facilitate a self-determined life. The new BTGH is also designed to implement improvements.
Ottmar Miles-Paul only sees very few improvements to the 382-page bill. He is one of the parties responsible for the teilhabegesetz.org website that launched three years ago, has spoken out against the bill and with the help of protest campaigns and an online petition, tries to adapt the bill to reflect the UN-CRPD. "Right now, we don’t need to ensure that improvements are implemented but just that setbacks are being avoided". In this interview with REHACARE.com, he cites two points as an example. "The access to benefits and services is designed to be overly complicated for people with disabilities in the future. According to Paragraph 99, five out of nine areas of life need to be impaired and restricted in order to receive integration assistance. This is a major additional hurdle". The nine areas are:
Only those who are impaired or restricted in five of these areas are eligible for government assistance. For example, if a visually impaired student needs a reading aid at the library, she won't receive it because she is most likely only impaired in three points, namely 1, 2 and 8, adds Miles-Paul as an example. "This is not the idea behind person-centered assistance. You should determine what type of assistance a person needs and should subsequently provide it, regardless of whether this person only meets less than five points", he says.
Meanwhile, Gabriele Lösekrug-Möller, the Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, sees improvements in the bill: "I am convinced that we can improve the overall situation of people with disabilities with the BTHG. The federal government raises 700 million Euros in additional funds each year for this". She believes, there won’t be any setbacks. "To truly preclude this, we will monitor and evaluate the BTGH implementation. Early results are scheduled to be available before 2020 so that the legislator is still able to counteract apparent undesirable developments before the reformed integration assistance goes into effect."
Article 19 of the UN-CRPD states the right to live independently and to be included in the community. People with disabilities are free to choose with whom, where and how they would like to live. They are not obligated to live in a special living accommodation such as a home, for instance. In this context, a series of communal support options – including the personal assistance model – need to be guaranteed. "If you don’t want to live in a home, you now need to provide a justification as to why a person cannot or does not want to live there", explains Miles-Paul. In doing so, the current bill does not ensure independent living and it is dependent on certain requirements. "However, these are just two important points. There are many, many more. That’s why we take to the streets to demonstrate for our rights".
How do things look in other countries? Should Germany perhaps "take a leaf out of someone else's book", or are we actually already trailblazers of an accessible Germany with a great Participation Law? Activist Miles-Paul believes, "In this day and age, it would be wonderful, if other countries could see Germany as a role model when it comes to the UN-CRPD, but unfortunately, this is not the case." According to Miles-Paul, Germany ranks somewhere in the middle. A mix of accessibility standards from the U.S., the support services, like having an assistant from Sweden and accessible black cabs from London would make up an "ideal country".
Lösekrug-Möller also believes that accessibility needs to be expanded in Germany. "In some countries, accessible design at different levels attracts a lot of interest. In Great-Britain, Spain and Greece, current news coverage of political developments on TV are broadcasted with a sign language interpreter for deaf people, in parts even during live broadcasts." However, she also still sees room for improvement in everyday life situations. "When it comes to accessible Cafés, supermarkets, medical practices and movie theaters, Germany needs to improve".
People also want to be seen and heard, as is evident on social media channels. Under the hashtag #nichtmeingesetz (#notmylaw), people are alerted to campaigns and demands. "The German Bundesrat (Federal Parliament) has proposed more than 100 amendments", explains Lösekrug-Möller. These proposals are now being reviewed to determine where amendments are required. Miles-Paul also believes that policymakers should reassess the bill. "When a law receives this amount of resistance and intends to change social interaction so drastically, the legislator should pause for a moment and think long and hard about where potential concerns and problems need to be eliminated." Ms. Lösekrug-Möller believes it is very important for people with disabilities to fight for their rights: "I see proof of the growing self-confidence, political commitment and the will to audibly and emphatically advocate for your own interests."
These are just a few of the aspects that were addressed in recent news coverage but there a good deal more points that are being criticized. It is likely that a hundred percent agreement or compromise cannot be reached in the near future. As long as the BTHG draft is not changed and amendments have not been reviewed, people will continue to take to the streets and fight for their rights. However, there is not much time left for an amendment because the BTHG is scheduled to be passed in three months.