Inclusion is still no matter of course in Europe

People with disabilities live all over the world, but their living conditions differ drastically depending on where they reside. Some countries are considered to be more hostile towards persons with disabilities while others almost seem to be a paradise – at least in comparison.


Photo: Elderly man in a wheelchair and a disabled boy laugh together; Copyright:

Participation in social life is just one of the numerous demands of the UN Convention which is still not implemented comprehensively; ©

The rights of persons with disabilities should be the same all over the world and implemented based on the UN Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The Zero Project, an Essl Foundation initiative, is committed to this goal. Supported by the United Nations (UN), the Zero Project is designed to offer a platform that presents and awards the most effective solutions for successful inclusion. In February 2016, a panel of 150 experts chose 86 projects out of more than 3,000 nominees. This makes them some of the best inclusive education projects in the world. All award winners focus on problems people with disabilities face in their daily lives.

Among the 86 projects are four projects that are promoted by the Christian Blind Mission in Nicaragua, Cambodia, India and Zimbabwe. The "Disability and Study" (DoBuS) unit at the Technical University of Dortmund (TU) also received a Zero Project Award. The goal of DoBuS is to create equal opportunities for students with disabilities and chronic illnesses. This now makes the TU Dortmund one of three universities worldwide that received an award for its inclusion commitment.

Inclusion has many facets

Yet inclusion does not just encompass the educational aspect. It pertains to all areas of life and includes both accessibility and the general chance to live a self-determined life.

Countries like Great Britain or Italy are ahead of the pack in many aspects. The Equality Act 2010 for example legally obligates all British companies to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. This also applies to the private sector. Some consequences of this law are portable disability ramps for stores with a step at the entrance for example and the fully accessible London taxis, the black cabs.

Photo: Andrea Schöne; Copyright: private

Andrea Schöne studies abroad for one year in Italy; © private

Andrea Schöne, a student of short stature also fondly remembers the time she spent in Great Britain. "The English were always very open-minded, helped me without being asked and immediately got up from seats designated to wheelchair users without given me the evil eye when I arrived on the train. They even said it was actually my right to sit there and considered it fully justified."

While on a political excursion to Jordan, Schöne also had some negative experiences. "I learned during this trip that people with disabilities have a hard time in the Middle East. People on the street gawped at me for several minutes. I was also not allowed to enter a club at a hotel because of my disability."

Together towards a more inclusive Europe

Despite some great examples, there is still lots to do when it comes to the UNCRPD implementation. According to the Convention, inclusion is a human right of persons with disabilities all over the world.

With inclusive encounters and increased dialog, the EU project "Shaping Europe Together" wants to contribute to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities. The project concept is based on the following main idea: every European citizen can help make European cities more livable. And in doing so, it essentially also makes Europe overall a better place to live.

Ideally, this contribution should not just be made to one’s own native country or place of residence. People should also be interested in the situation in other places and countries and - in the best case scenario- get involved. This is why 29 German and Bulgarian participants jointly considered examples of what should be changed in order to improve living in the Bulgarian town Razlog within the scope of the project. The Bulgarians were considered experts in their field and identified the constraints and options in their country. The team included people with and without disabilities and from different social backgrounds. They summarized their findings and considerations in a memorandum. These ranged from accessible recreational facilities to modifications to ensure voter participation all the way to workplaces tailored to the specific needs of people with disabilities.

What works on a small scale should technically also work on a large scale. Communicating, listening to each other, taking needs seriously. Ideally, the subsequent joint commitment can perhaps also result in the implementation of inclusion in society.

Photo: Nadine Lormis; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

Nadine Lormis
(Translated by Elena O'Meara.)