EDF’s Annual General Assembly (AGA) brought together over 200 participants, including AGA delegates, observers, partners, guests and members of the global disability movement. The meeting was hosted by EDF Spanish members, CERMI and ONCE Foundation. A conference was also organised in the framework of the AGA to mark EDF’s 20th anniversary.
Entitled '20 years later: Building an inclusive disability movement for the future', the conference was an opportunity to recall the great achievements of the disability movement in the last 20 years, but also to identify the challenges ahead and how the disability movement should address these challenges.
Opening the meeting, EDF President, Yannis Vardakastanis, recalled the advances that persons with disabilities have experienced in their lives in the last 20 years. He also highlighted the great importance of the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) by the European Union (EU). However, he also talked about the responsibility of the EU to stand by the side of its citizens and improve the living conditions of all people including those with disabilities.
"We have seen the adoption of many EU laws and policies that protect, promote and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities in areas such as passengers’ rights, structural funds, employment, web accessibility etc. EDF believes in a strong and united Europe and expresses its support to the EU to be an inclusive place where all human rights are protected and people with disabilities are included in society without discrimination. EU should protect people with disabilities from austerity measures that create more poverty and inequality", said Yannis Vardakastanis.
Moreover, EDF President raised the importance of the active involvement of persons with disabilities through their representative organisations in line with the motto of the disability movement: 'Nothing about us without us'. "There are cases at national level that organisations of persons with disabilities are not supported or not allowed to do their work. The EU and its Member States have the obligation, under the CRPD that they have ratified, to ensure that the organisations of persons with disabilities are involved and consulted. Capacity building and funding should be secured, and barriers should be removed", underlined Yannis Vardakastanis.
CERMI President, Luis Cayo Pérez Bueno, underlined that we need a strong and united Europe that hears the needs of all people with disabilities including refugees with disabilities. CERMI President said that people with disabilities are often deprived of their legal capacity, the right to vote, the right to education and other things that are essential in life due to lack of accessibility. He also stressed that women and girls with disabilities are at high risk of experiencing discrimination, violence and forced sterilisation.
ONCE and ONCE Foundation President, Miguel Carballeda, explained that ONCE’s Sports and Cultural Centre, in which EDF AGA was taking place, used to be a school for the blind. "Today 7.500 blind children in Spain go to ordinary schools together with their peers without disabilities. Inclusion, solidarity and unity are what ONCE has been fighting for throughout its history", he said.
The President of Group III (Various Interests) of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), Luca Jahier, presented the work that the EESC does to promote disability rights and the implementation of the CRPD. He also called on the EU to develop a clear and comprehensive disability rights agenda following the recommendation by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. "When I think of the disability movement, I think of values, rights, people and sustainable development", he concluded.
On Saturday 13 May 2017, speakers also included the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Market, Marianne Thyssen, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Member, Ana Peláez, Narváez, and the Member of the European Parliament, Helga Stevens.
Human Rights Watch also spoke about how persons with disabilities have been involved in the global human rights movement.
In her speech Ana Peláez Narváez talked about those who face a high risk to be left behind, such as women and girls with disabilities, children, and persons with invisible disabilities. "Do you think all people with disabilities have the right to vote or the right to inclusive education? Do you think all women with disabilities have the right to be mothers?", she said concluding that "all rights have to be a reality for all people, not some rights for some people".
The discussion also focused on what the European disability movement needs to do to continue fighting successfully for equality and social justice in the future. What are the opportunities we have? What are the challenges? Who are our allies?
The panelists here included Nujeen Mustafa, a young refugee with disability, Klaus Lachwitz, Secretary of International Disability Alliance, and representatives from Civil Society organisations, such as the European Women’s Lobby, the European Youth Forum and Age Platform Europe.
Nujeen Mustafa talked about the challenges that refugees with disabilities face due to the lack of accessibility in the refugee camps that makes even basic things like entering the toilet impossible. "It’s shocking that the camps are not prepared to receive also refugees with disabilities because it is easy to imagine that many refugees get a disability during this difficult trip", Nujeen Mustafa said emphasising that refugees with disabilities should not be forgotten.